Before a multitude of more than 350,000 people that packed St Peter's Square and the Via della Conciliazione, John Paul II proclaimed Josemaria Escrivà de Balaguer a saint during a Mass on 6 October 2002.
Forty-two cardinals, archbishops, bishops and priests concelebrated with the Holy Father, including Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, Cardinals Antonio Maria Rouco Varela, Archbishop of Madrid (the diocese where the new saint lived until he moved to Rome and where he founded Opus Dei in 1928), Angelo Sodano, Secretary of State, Camillo Ruini, Vicar for Rome, Joachim Meissner and Roger Etchegaray.
More than 400 ecclesiastical authorities were seated to the left of the altar, including cardinals, archbishops and bishops, representatives of different Church movements and superiors of religious orders. Also present were delegations from various countries and personalities from the world of art, politics and culture.
This year marks the centenary of the birth of Josemaria Escrivà, on 9 January 1902, in Barbastro, northern Spain. He died in Rome on 26 June 1975. He was proclaimed blessed on 17 May 1992, in a ceremony also held in St Peter's Square.
On 2 October 1928, during a spiritual retreat in Madrid, Escrivà founded Opus Dei or "Work of God" with the goal of reminding all those who are baptised that the Christian vocation is a call to holiness and apostolate, and to promote a personal commitment to follow Christ, to love the Church, and to search for holiness in ordinary life among men and women from all sectors of society.
In 1934, the first edition of The Way was published. It would become Escrivà's most widely read book, with some four million copies sold. He is also well-known in spiritual literature for other titles such as The Holy Rosary, Christ Is Passing By, Friends of God, The Way of the Cross, Furrow, The Forge and In Love with the Church.
Today, Opus Dei is a prelature, a worldwide diocese, that has its own autonomy and ordinary jurisdiction to carry out its mission for the Church. It is directly under the Pope, through the Vatican Congregation for Bishops.
Since the institution in 1588 of what is now called the Congregation for Sainthood Causes, until the start of John Paul II's pontificate, there had been 296 saints canonised. John Paul II has now canonised an additional 468 saints and proclaimed 1,294 blessed.
The Holy Father pronounced the formula of St Josemaria's canonisation at 10:23am in St Peter's Square. Pilgrims who filled the square and adjacent streets responded with emotional but restrained applause.
After the proclamation, the Pope was given a relic of new saint, a huge portrait of whom surrounded by flowers adorned the principal facade of St Peter's Basilica.
The Pope said that the message of the newly canonised Opus Dei founder is to stand up to "a materialist culture that threatens to dissolve the most genuine identity of the disciples of Christ."
He recalled that, "as Josemaria Escrivà used to affirm, the daily life of a Christian who has faith, when he works or rests, when he prays or when he sleeps, in every moment, is a life in which God is always present. This supernatural vision of life opens up a horizon extraordinarily rich in the prospect of salvation because in the context of the apparent monotony of normal earthly occurrences, God is near us and we can co-operate with his plan of salvation.
"Therefore, what Vatican Council II affirms can be more easily understood, that is, that 'the Christian message does not distance men from building the world, ... on the contrary, it obliges them to carry this out as a duty'."
Escrivà had proclaimed this message in the years before Vatican II, when holiness was considered by many to be strictly the concern of priests and men and women religious.
The Pope described the saint's teaching as "timely and urgent," as he always said that a Christian, "by virtue of his baptism, which incorporates him to Christ, is called to embrace an uninterrupted and vital relation with the Lord." The believer, he said, "is called to be holy and to collaborate in the salvation of humanity."
Call to holiness
Addressing Opus Dei members, John Paul II asked them to "raise the world to God and transform it from within," following "the ideal that the holy founder indicates to you" and to follow "in his footsteps", spreading "in society, without distinction of race, class, culture or age, the awareness that we are all called to holiness." He then recalled the advice of Escrivà: "first, prayer; then, expiation; in the third place, very much in third place, action."
This, said the Holy Father, was "not a paradox but a perennial truth: the fruitfulness of the apostolate is above all in prayer and in an intense and constant sacramental life. This is, in essence, the secret of holiness and of the authentic success of the saints."
Following Mass, John Paul II prayed the Angelus with the pilgrims and faithful present for the canonisation, and recalled that his love for the Virgin was "a prominent part of the legacy" left behind by St Josemaria Escrivà to his spiritual sons and daughters. The Pope went on to greet those present in Italian, French, English, German, Spanish, Polish and Portuguese.
He then crossed St Peter's Square and went down the broad Via della Conciliazione in an open car in order to greet the many pilgrims who came from more than 80 countries to attend the ceremony.