The impulse to believe the absurd when presented with the unknowable is called religion. Whether this is wise or unwise is the domain of doctrine. Once you understand someone's doctrine, you understand their rationale for believing the absurd. At that point, it may no longer seem absurd. You can get to both sides of this conondrum from here.


Postby admin » Thu Oct 22, 2015 8:20 am


When I arrived in Madrid from Bilbao I went to live at 20, Juan Bravo Street, headquarters of the Opus Dei women's central advisory, still based in Spain. Every day I went to Lagasca to try to help assemble the items I was supposed to take to Rome.

The Juan Bravo and Lagasca houses were close to each other and equidistant from my parents' home. The short walk brought back a flood of old memories. Madrid has always been dear to me. I spent the first twenty-four years of my life there. Now, after several years away, first in Villaviciosa de Odon making my formation course, then in administrations of Opus Dei residences in Cordoba, Barcelona, and Bilbao, to return to Madrid was to relive my whole life. I knew every inch of the Salamanca neighborhood. I recalled my early childhood, schooldays, student years in the Escuela de Comercio, my first dates, my fiance. As I walked the streets, I tried to put all this out of my mind, because the memories seemed to interfere with my dedication according to the spirit of Opus Dei. I realized that a numerary with good spirit had to "detach" herself from everything that stirred up emotional currents in her mind and heart. I was in Madrid only in order to gather the material I was supposed to take to Italy, where I would work close to the Father.

At Lagasca I met Maria Luisa Moreno de Vega, a major superior in the Women's Branch central government. She was coming to work with me as one of Monsignor Escriva's two personal secretaries for matters related to the Women's Branch of Opus Dei worldwide. Maria Luisa had been Jose Maria Albareda's secretary at the Council of Scientific Research, when I was there as Dr. Panikkar's secretary. Maria Luisa was to go to Rome at the beginning of April. As a major superior she would fly. Since I had no government status in Opus Dei, I would go by train with Tasia, a servant numerary who was assigned to Villa Sacchetti. I would also take the heavy luggage such as a trunk and our suitcases.

The post of "personal secretary to the Father" was not a government position. It was created by the Father to assist him in material things, as did the male secretaries he already had.

The day Maria Luisa Moreno de Vega left for Rome, Rosario de Orbegozo asked me to accompany her and Maria Luisa to the airport. Maria Luisa was elegantly dressed for the trip and wore a very pretty, stylish hat. Since the Women's Branch had no cars in those days, Father Jose Maria Hernandez-Garnica arranged for a male numerary to drive us to the airport in a car belonging to the Men's Branch. In her rush, Maria Luisa forgot her passport and only noticed it was missing when we were near the airport. When Rosario heard Maria Luisa say she had left her passport, she panicked because it meant that Maria Luisa was going to miss the flight to Rome. Furiously, she began to strike out, crushing Maria Luisa's hat and grumbling that Maria Luisa should have been more concerned about remembering her passport than about getting a hat for the trip. The scene was absolutely comic. The male numerary could not help hearing the heated conversation in the back seat. Maria Luisa was distraught, but a nervous reaction made her laugh, and I found it difficult not to join her. The numerary chauffeur, who had maintained the most absolute silence until then, intervened: "We are going back, no?"

We all assented at the same time. We returned to Lagasca. Rosario went on scolding Maria Luisa for having missed the weekly plane from Madrid to Rome. The following week, Maria Luisa's departure went smoothly. I accompanied her in a taxi, as ordered, to the Iberia bus terminal, from which passengers were transported to the airport.

Since I was probably leaving Spain forever, the directress told me I could see my father every day. Going to my family home was unthinkable because my mother refused to see me as long as I remained in Opus Dei. My father and I met daily for about an hour at the Hotel Emperatriz cafeteria, which was very close to my family home. After a while, however, the directress of Juan Bravo announced that since it was Lent, it would be better if I met my father only every three to four days. I hardly saw my brothers because of the conflict between their class schedules and my free time in the afternoon; besides, they knew my mother did not want them to visit me. The family's reaction to my vocation deteriorated further with the news of my imminent departure for Rome.

Conversations with my father were painful for both of us. He saw that my mother was suffering and realized that I was hurt by her attitude. My father loved me deeply; we were very much alike in much of our thinking, and I was the only daughter and the oldest child.

Every time we met, my father repeated that if I had any problem in Rome, I should go to the Spanish Ambassador to the Vatican, whom he knew fairly well, and that I should not hesitate to write home to him for anything I might need. Of course, he repeated as well that if I were not happy, I should come back home, where he and my mother would receive me with open arms.

One day my father told me of the audience my mother and he had had with the Pope in October 1950; they both got the impression that Pius XII had no sympathy for Opus Dei. There was another couple with them at the audience, who told the Holy Father that their son was a Jesuit. Pius XII spoke enthusiastically about the Society of Jesus and gave them a special blessing for their Jesuit son. My mother, who was very moved by the audience, began to weep. Pius XII then asked my father if they had any children and if they had problems with them. My father answered that they had no problems with their sons because they were very good. "The problem," my mother stammered between sobs, "is my daughter." Again, Pius XII addressed my father to ask what the problem was with the daughter. My mother said, "She has gone off to Opus Dei." Pius XII responded with a certain coldness. "Yes," he said tersely, "it is a recently approved secular institute." He did not say anything else. However, he was extraordinarily affectionate to my mother, and he gave both my parents his blessing while he gently caressed my mother's head.

My father said that my mother remained opposed to Opus Dei because it was neither fish nor fowl. I listened but believed that my parents were twisting things in their anxiety to have me return home. An Opus Dei refrain was engraved in my mind: "Parents can sometimes be the greatest enemies of our vocation." Years later I realized the correctness of their instinctive evaluation of Opus Dei.

The directress told me that, since the majority of my friends were married, it was not worth the trouble to see them in the few days I had left in Madrid. I should not even call them, advice I found difficult to accept. It would be better simply to leave notes with their names so that some other numerary could telephone them later to invite them to days of recollection. Meanwhile at the Madrid Opus Dei houses, people kept telling me how lucky I was to go to the Father's house in Rome. I must have special "connections" to have gotten such an assignment.

My three weeks in Madrid were drawing to a close; my trip was scheduled for April 22, Madrid-Barcelona-Rome. My father, resigned to what was then Opus Dei practice, got me a third-class train ticket. He could not go to the station with me this time, because he had to go to London on business; he took my mother with him to lessen the tension of my departure.

Father Jose Maria Hernandez-Garnica gave Tasia and me a blessing for the trip, an Opus Dei custom, and handed me some personal mail for Monsignor Escriva. I was to give it to Don Alvaro immediately on arrival. Just as we were about to leave for the station, Rosario de Orbegozo called me aside. To my astonishment she told me to lift up my skirt, because she had to attach a pouch to my waist. She told me not to ask questions and did not give the slightest explanation about the content of the pouch. She instructed me not to remove it for any reason, nor speak of it to Tasia or anyone else, but to hand it over personally to Don Alvaro del Portillo on arrival in Rome. She recommended special care at the Italian and French borders. In case they wanted to search me at any border, I should demand that international law prohibited body searches, except by female officers wearing uniform and white gloves.

At first I thought that the content of that pouch would surely be some very important document of the Work, but in the excitement of departure I almost forgot about it. After checking the trunk and the suitcases through to Rome, it was a relief to get to our compartment, which we shared with an elderly French lady and a young, well-dressed Italian man, who had lived in Spain for several years and spoke Spanish fluently.

Since the Madrid-Barcelona portion of the trip was at night, Tasia and I tried to sleep as much as we could. I did not sleep well, because I thought that I was probably leaving Spain for good. Once again, I was leaving my whole life behind and, this time, also my country. Still, I thought that God asked me to offer anew my life and future to him. It was like cutting the umbilical cord.

I could look forward to working with the Father and be grateful for the charism of having been chosen along with Maria Luisa Moreno de Vega for this sensitive work as his secretary.

Our papers were in order, and we crossed France with no problems. I remembered the pouch, but nobody thought of searching us. The coast from Spain through France to the Italian border is so beautiful that we were absorbed in looking at the Riviera and Monaco. For many years I had a dream in my heart that if I ever left Spain, it would be because the Work sent me to France. I had shared this with Monsignor Escriva in more than one of my personal letters.

In Madrid they had prepared sandwiches and fruit for our trip, but no water, because they told us we could drink at fountains at the stations where the train stopped. The fact was that the train only paused briefly at these stations, allowing us no time to get off and look for a fountain. I always drink a lot of water and was very thirsty, but since they had given us no money for the trip, we could not purchase any of the soft drinks offered by the vendors who came to the windows when the train stopped.

Seeing two young, pleasant-looking women, our companion must have expected that he would have a fine trip in our company. What he did not know is that Opus Dei numeraries never socialize with men, and that in situations like travel, they do not reveal their membership in Opus Dei, which frequently, as on this trip, creates confusion and embarrassment. As a normally dressed woman just past her twenty-seventh birthday, I looked like a graduate student who was going abroad. Tasia was also normally dressed. Despite her attire, it was observable that her manners and look were a bit rough. The Italian gentleman wanted to begin a conversation at all costs. I answered his questions politely. He kept trying to break the ice, but Tasia and I were trying to live up to the rules of Opus Dei, spending long intervals in the corridor of the car, and when we came back to the compartment we pretended to fall asleep.

At Ventimiglia Italian police and customs agents got on board the train to check our passports and luggage. I was relaxed because we had checked the trunk and two suitcases through to Rome, so that we did not have much luggage in the compartment. Once the Italian police and customs officials got off the train, Tasia and I stayed in the corridor looking out the window at the hustle and bustle of that border station. We saw how our suitcases were loaded onto the baggage car headed for Rome, but suddenly we realized that our trunk had been set aside in the middle of the platform where the customs agents check the luggage, without the slightest appearance of being loaded onto the train. There were some ten minutes left for the train to begin when we noticed this. I did not think twice. I gave Tasia her ticket and passport and asked the Italian gentleman please to look after her during the trip; and especially in Rome where our friends would be waiting.

I got off the train and flew to customs. For about three minutes, I ran between the counters of the French and Italian customs trying to discover the reason why they had not put the trunk back on the train for Rome. The response was that I would have to leave the trunk at the border and could then send for it via a customs agency, unless I immediately paid in liras or French francs an amount equivalent to some thirty American dollars. Besides, they doubted there was time to load the trunk onto the train.

To my horror, I realized that since I had no foreign currency, the trunk would probably be lost or that it would be very complicated to send for it from Rome; furthermore the superiors in Madrid had instructed me that the trunk was to arrive in Rome with me. Suddenly, I thought of the pouch and wondered if it might hold some money. Rosario de Orbegozo's strict order not to undo or touch that pouch flashed through my mind, but at the same time the biblical passage of the consecrated loaves of offering came to mind and I ducked into a filthy bathroom and ripped open the pouch. To my amazement, it contained thousands and thousands of American dollars. Trembling, I took out only fifty dollars not wanting to know what an enormous quantity of money I carried. So I paid the Franco-Italian customs and insisted that the customs agents put the trunk on the train.

I ran across the tracks and headed toward the train which was just beginning to move. Tasia wept, thinking she had been left alone because I would not be able to get on the moving train. In fact, I reached the stairs to the door of one of the last cars. Meanwhile the Italian gentleman had witnessed the scene and ran down the corridor of the train toward the door I was trying to reach and with all his strength helped me get on board the train, which by then was moving quite fast. I thanked him cordially and a friendly conversation followed.

Besides being out of breath after sprinting for the train, I was upset at having opened the pouch and wondered what Don Alvaro would say when he realized I had found out that I was carrying so much money.

When I think back today and realize that I had crossed the boundaries of three countries with that package of money, I am horrified that Opus Dei dared utilize its members, exposing them to violations of international law. How could any police officer believe that I did not know that I carried foreign currency? As someone who had attained her majority, I would personally have suffered any penalty that might have been imposed in Spain for exporting money without permission or in France and Italy for not declaring it.

Monsignor Escriva with some important member of Opus Dei -- we never knew who -- went to visit Franco during this period. In the course of the conversation, he let slip that they were building the Roman College of the Holy Cross in Rome and that they would need to bring funds from Spain for the construction. Franco, a native from the northwestern region of Galicia, whose inhabitants are legendary for their astuteness, simply ignored the hint. Following the old Spanish saying, "he who warns does not betray" (Quien avisa no es traidor), Monsignor Escriva then requested Opus Dei major superiors in Spain to send him large-scale financial assistance so that he could meet his obligations to outsiders. Opus Dei in Spain was bled to help Rome. Since there were no official channels to transmit this money openly, given the Franco regime's monetary policy, "discreet" methods were used including the diplomatic pouch or some similar method. In Rome we all knew that there was a weekly mail delivery from Spain, that is to say, someone brought confidential papers. Today I have no doubt that such persons illegally or ignorantly as in my case may have also brought some quantity of foreign currency.

As we came closer to Rome, the Italian gentleman asked questions such as, "What do you plan to do in Italy?" My logical answer was, "To study Italian." I tried to be as vague as possible, but the questions continued: "Where in Italy?" "In Rome." "Where will you live in Rome?" "In a students' residence." "What is its name?" "I don't know," I answered. "My friends will tell me when they come for me tonight at the station.

Questions and evasions continued. Naturally, I didn't give him any address. I limited myself to explaining, in order not to appear too odd, that I believed the residence was in the Parioli, but that since I was unfamiliar with Rome, I might be confused.

Realizing it was not very easy to have a conversation with me, he kindly offered me some Italian magazines he had brought, for we also lacked any reading material. I accepted them courteously.

What this man could not even conceive is that they were the first magazines that fell into my hands since 1950. I had great curiosity and interest to leaf through them, especially because they were Italian. They were illustrated magazines, not pornographic in the slightest, which did not mean that there was not an occasional more or less suggestive photograph. I took extra care so that Tasia would not see those photographs, and I spent some minutes trying to find out if I could understand written Italian. With the excuse of our going out to the corridor, I left the magazines on the seat. The hours went by and we arrived at Stazione Termine in Rome. It was eleven o'clock P.M., April 23, 1952.

Waiting for us on the platform were Iciar Zumalde who had done the Los Rosales formation course with me, and Mary Carmen Sanchez-Merino from Granada, whom I did not know. It struck me that Stazione Termine was not as noisy as Spanish stations, and they pointed out that the phenomenon was a result of the material used for the floor. We got a taxi for ourselves and all our luggage, trunk included. Rome seemed attractively lit to me, but I was so tired and thirsty that the only thing I desired was to get to the house and drink water. After some twenty minutes, we arrived in front of the house that seemed small to me, because from the threshold, one could only see three windows and a kind of little roof. It was Via di Villa Sacchetti, 36, the headquarters of the Opus Dei Women's Branch in Rome.
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Postby admin » Thu Oct 22, 2015 8:21 am

Part 1 of 4


Antonina, one of the Work's first numerary servants, who had been in Rome for many years, opened the door for us. Encarnita Ortega, then directress of the Villa Sacchetti administration and Mary Altozano, a numerary from Jaen, who was the subdirectress of the house, were waiting with her along with Maria Luisa Moreno de Vega. After warm greetings from each of them, we went up some granite steps to the Gallery of the Madonna, and thence by another stairway to the oratory of the Immaculate Heart of Mary to greet the Lord.

I asked Encarnita Ortega if I could have a glass of water because I had not had anything to drink for nearly forty-eight hours. I will always remember that she looked at her watch and said: "It is after midnight. If you drink water now, you will not be able to go to communion tomorrow. How nice," she added, "the first thing you are going to offer up in Rome for the Father." Of course, I didn't drink water.

My first impression upon crossing that threshold was of entering a medieval castle. I observed there was a great deal of stone, red tile, and iron in the construction. There was little furniture, but heavy inside shutters.

They turned on the lights in the Gallery of the Madonna, named after a stained-glass window at the end so that I could see it better. On the other side of the Gallery is the ironing room, and when its lights are on, light shines in the Gallery as well. The Gallery is very pretty. Because of the number of different levels that exist in these buildings, the Gallery of the Madonna is in a cellar which has excellent natural light from a skylight in the ceiling. The floor is of red tile arranged in a zig-zag pattern with a border of soft white stone, and set off against the grey granite molding at the bottom of the wall. There is a fountain against one of the walls, made out of a genuine Roman sarcophagus. Drops of water always fall from a hippogriff's mouth, which creates a quiet, recollected atmosphere. Instructions for the house in Rome mandate permanent minor silence in the Gallery, which means that one must speak as little as possible and in a very low voice because of the proximity of the oratories. At the time I arrived, there was only one oratory for the administration, the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Antonina, Mary Carmen Sanchez Merino, and Iciar brought Tasia, the servant who came with me, to her compartment (camarilla). Encarnita Ortega and Maria Luisa Moreno de Vega brought me to my room.

Climbing the steps of red tile trimmed in wood, toward the first floor of the sleeping quarters, we stopped on a big landing where there was a living room or soggiorno, whose door of iron and glass allows you to see the whole room from the outside. The room was large, with the furniture in several groupings, and very attractive. It struck me as well furnished. Encarnita pointed out a series of trompe-l'oeil drawings which decorated the walls and created optical illusions. The room had three windows to the street, which I had just seen from below.

From there, they took me to my room, which was on the first floor, showing me where the showers and toilets were. Maria Luisa Moreno de Vega had her room very near mine.

Our rooms formed a block of two floors whose windows opened onto a terrace, planted with several cypresses.

Of course, Encarnita repeated that I had "pull" because I had come to the Father's house and what a responsibility it would be to work directly with him as one of his two female personal secretaries.

Encarnita asked if I had brought anything for the Father and I said I had. I handed over the mail that Father Jose Maria Hernandez-Garnica had given me and also the money belt, explaining what had occurred in Ventimiglia. She said that I should explain everything to Don Alvaro del Portillo, when I saw him the following day.

When I closed the door of my room, I saw that it was mid-sized with a greenish-black iron bed and a very pleasant flowery covering over the planks. During the next few days I realized that all the bedrooms were laid out and furnished in exactly the same way. There were two doors, one to a sink with a large mirror and light, and the other to the closet. My window was closed. I didn't know at first where it faced, but the next day, on opening it, I realized it overlooked the terrace of the cypresses. There was a niche in the wall for books, but no books, and a picture of Our Lady painted on the wall. A very simple desk and chair rounded out the decoration of the room. The floor was of red mosaic. The room was pleasant but its austerity chilled me a little.

I got up when the bell rang and following the rules of all Opus Dei houses was dressed and had my bed made in thirty minutes. The light poured in when I opened the window, and it was as if that sun had filled me with optimism. Encarnita came to take me to the oratory, because the house was so big that it was easy to get lost.

First there was meditation, as in every house of the Work, and then Mass. The oratory of the Immaculate Heart of Mary was very different from those I had known in Spain. It seemed rather large. There were choir seats for the numeraries and in the middle of the oratory pews on either side of the central aisle for the servant numeraries with a small organ in the middle.

At the end of Mass I went to greet the numeraries and servants who lived in the house, some of them old acquaintances and others not, who waited for us in the Gallery of the Madonna. These greetings are usually very noisy, with big hugs, but Opus Dei numeraries never kiss each other. We immediately went to have breakfast. At that time the male numeraries' dining room was not yet finished, so they used ours. Because of the conflict, and in order to maintain the rule for administrations, we had breakfast in the ironing room, on a table, usually used for sewing. We used our own dining room for lunch and dinner only, because there were several turns for meals in the house. This went on for almost two years until part of the construction was complete and we could also have breakfast in the dining room intended for the administration.

There were not many numeraries at Villa Sacchetti when I arrived. The local council was formed by Encarnita Ortega as directress, Mary Altozano as subdirectress, and Mary Carmen Sanchez Merino as secretary. Maria Luisa Moreno de Vega and I were informed that we would primarily work in cleaning the administration section and, then, as the Father's secretaries we would carry out the duties assigned us.

At breakfast they explained that more numeraries had previously lived in Villa Sacchetti, but that the Father had just organized the Italian region of the Women's Branch, with headquarters in Rome, in a house called Marcello Prestinari after the name of the street where the apartment was located. Pilarin Navarro Rubio, one of the first members of the Women's Branch was regional secretary. Also assigned to the region of Italy were Enrica Botella, Victoria Lopez Amo, Consi Perez, Chelo Salafranca, and Maria Teresa Longo, the first Italian woman numerary. Except for Chelo whom I knew from Zurbaran, I did not know any of the others.

As soon as we had finished breakfast, Encarnita arranged the things that I had brought for the Father on a silver tray and told Tasia and me to get ready because the Father was going to come to the Gallery of the Madonna to meet us. We asked how to greet him and were told that we should kiss his hand, if he offered it. Tasia and I were with Encarnita in the gallery when we heard the Father's voice as he approached through the Gallery of the Birds, so called because the walls and ceiling are decorated with birds. He and Don Alvaro paused with their backs to the stained-glass window of the Gallery of the Madonna, and he said to us with a big smile: "Pax, daughters!" We answered filled with emotion: "In aeternum, Father!" We kissed his hand, when he offered it. Don Alvaro also said Pax to us with a big smile, and again we answered, In aeternum.

I had not seen Don Alvaro since the afternoon when they told me to visit him at Diego de Leon in Madrid toward the end of 1949. Although I had seen Monsignor Escriva once before in 1949, when he gave a meditation to new numeraries in the Lagasca administration in Madrid, this was the first time he spoke to me directly or personally.

The Father asked us if we had had a good trip and if we had slept well. We told him we had. Addressing Tasia, he said that there was a lot of work in the house and that he hoped she would always be joyful. Then with a "God bless you, daughter," he dismissed the servant. After she left, he looked me in the eye and said: "How little did you imagine, Carmen, daughter, that you were coming to Rome!" I answered: "Truly, Father." Monsignor Escriva went on: "Do you see the Lord's plans, daughter?" "Yes, Father." He said that there was a lot of work to do and that we would talk. He asked me if I had seen Rome, and I told him I had not. Then he said to Encarnita that someone should take me to St. Peter's and show me around. He added: "It's necessary to learn Italian!" "Of course, Father."

The Father inquired whether I had brought mail for Don Alvaro, and I said I had. Encarnita opened the ironing room door, and Rosalia Lopez, one of the first servant numeraries, came out with the tray with the mail and pouch. The Father indicated that they should leave it in his dining room in the Villa Vecchia. I took advantage of the Father's silence to try to tell Don Alvaro why I had had to open the money belt, but the latter did not let me continue. He made a gesture with his hand as if to tell me not to worry.

The Father called for Maria Luisa. Encarnita had told her to stay in the ironing room in case the Father wanted her. She came out immediately.

The Father, quite affably, told us that we would work closely with him (muy cerquica) on secretarial matters related to the Opus Dei Women's Branch worldwide. It should be clear to us that our secretarial work did not involve membership in the government, "although," he added, "Maria does belong to the government as a major superior, but you don't," he said to me. During the following days he repeated that so often, that I used to say to Maria Luisa in jest: "The Father will tell me again when he comes that you have a role in the government and I don't."

We agreed that we would meet him in the secretary's office the next day after the cleaning. This very small, triangular office was the house secretary's room on the first floor of Villa Sacchetti. They assigned Maria Luisa and me this room as the most suitable place. The room had an Italian-style desk, a closet, just enough space for a couple of extra chairs. It was a room full of light near the terrace onto which our bedrooms faced. It had a little cabinet, resembling a safe, set in the wall and covered with a painting, where we kept confidential documents, duplicates of the keys to the house, especially the duplicate to the mail box. The mailman could slip letters into this box from the street. The inside box was located at the delivery entrance, and had a small metal door on the inside which could only be opened with the key which was kept in the house secretary's desk, whose duplicate was placed in the cabinet set in the wall. Our only equipment was a portable typewriter.

I was very pleased with this assignment in Rome. Everything seemed like a dream, as if I had died and gone to heaven. With all respect to Muslims, I felt as though I had arrived in Mecca. I could not believe that there could be greater happiness on earth for a member of Opus Dei. The Father had spoken to me, knew who I was, and had announced that I was going to work with him. Isn't this the greatest thing to which a completely fanaticized member of Opus Dei, as I was, whose star and guide was none other than Opus Dei and Monsignor Escriva, could aspire? What I could not even have conceived of were the undercurrents that existed between people in the house and the Father and between the Father and the Holy See.

If I remember correctly the subdirector Mary Altozano accompanied me to St. Peter's. She had been in Rome for more than a year, and her Italian was very good. She was very young and had entered Opus Dei almost as a child. She had an older brother who was a numerary. By chance, I had been a good friend of a cousin of hers, who was a naval doctor and whom I had met in Cartagena.

We went by the circolare (trolley) to the stop closest to St. Peter's, and she pointed out the building in the Citta Leonina where the Father had lived when he arrived in Rome. From there we crossed the Colonnata, and for the first time I saw the vast Basilica of St. Peter's. I had the sense of being at the heart of the church. When we arrived at the altar of the confession, Mary said that the Father liked us to say the Creed there and we did. I soaked up everything she told me, and the grandeur of St. Peter's overwhelmed me. Mary said Pius XII used to give his blessing after the Angelus at noon, but we had to return before then so as not to be late for the Father's lunch hour, since he might have some work for me. So, we did not stay for the Pope's blessing. This strange detail reveals that under Pius XII, John XXIII, and Paul VI it was a manifestation of "good spirit" for the numerary who arrived in Rome not to insist on staying to receive the Pope's blessing but to go back to Via di Villa Sacchetti so that she would be there, if the Father called.

On the circolare, I could sense how big Rome was and realized that I could not understand a word of Italian.

In sum, the first day in Rome was full of varied impressions. One memory from the first day was that I kept getting lost in the house and had to wait for someone to come down the gallery to seek directions to the oratory, my room, or the dining room.

Normal life, so to speak, began the second day of my stay in Rome. Encarnita was showing me the kitchen, when Antonina, the servant who usually answered the phone, approached Encarnita and whispered something. With an air of annoyance, Encarnita asked me: "To whom have you given our telephone number?" "To nobody," I answered truthfully. "We'll see who that man is who is calling you."

I couldn't imagine who it could be, because I hadn't given my father or the Italian gentleman on the train any phone number, and I did not know anybody in Rome.

The telephone was in the ironing room. To my great surprise, I heard the voice of the Italian gentleman from the train, delighted because he had located my telephone number and address. He wanted to come by to show me around Rome. My answer was brusque, rude, and sharp. I told him not to bother me again and hung up. I went back to Encarnita and said that it was a gentleman who was in our compartment on the train from Madrid, and I would explain everything later. The expression on her face made me think she was going to scold me.

As the directress of the house, Encarnita received all the confidences of numeraries and servant numeraries, so that she had complete control of each and every one of us.

Encarnita used to receive the confidences of the servants in a part of the ironing room that was on a different level, while she was sewing. Later in the ironing room, I saw that Tasia was talking to her, and I guessed that what Tasia said might give Encarnita a reason to speak to me.

I did not have to wait long. Next day, without even listening to me, Encarnita launched into a great oration, saying what a bad example I had been to the servant during the trip; I had not only continually flirted with the Italian on the train, but had allowed him to take me by the arm to get me on board, and had read the pornographic magazines he had loaned me, although I knew that numeraries could not read any magazine without permission. The worst thing was that since she said everything as a fraternal correction, I could not defend myself and had to accept it all without a whimper. Naturally, I was angry that the servant had been so stupidly scandalized and had indulged in such misinterpretations.

What I did not know on arrival at Villa Sacchetti was that Encarnita was the thermometer of "good spirit" in the Work, and reported everything, absolutely everything to the Father or Don Alvaro. Furthermore, since Encarnita fully shared the Father's notion that the servant numeraries were like little children, anything said by them had greater weight than anything we might say. In her correction/scolding, Encarnita said that I had barely arrived in Rome when I was already failing the Father and that she preferred not even to think of how upset the Father would be, if he knew of my behavior during the trip.

When it was my turn to make my confidence, I gave my version of the trip, but I remained convinced that my truth did not change her opinion in the slightest. Instinctively, I realized that Encarnita did not totally trust me, although I did everything possible to gain her trust.

Over the years I came to realize that Encarnita tended to be jealous of anyone who could overshadow her in relation to the Father. She managed to have Pilarin Navarro sent to the region of Italy as directress, so that she became the senior person in Villa Sacchetti, and the one who knew the Father best. However, since Maria Luisa and I arrived, she was no longer the only woman who saw the Father in confidence. She was no more than the directress of the house, and was not privy to the confidential matters of the secretarial office, something that she clearly disliked.

The following day, Maria Luisa and I waited in the secretarial office at the time set by the Father. We prepared two chairs for him and Don Alvaro. When we heard them arrive, we stood up and the Father told us to be seated.

Basically, he told us we would be in charge of writing weekly letters to the regional directresses in the countries where there were Opus Dei women. Matters of government could not be part of these letters. We should only write about the headquarters in Rome, anecdotes about the servants, and what we had heard from the Father. If any of the incoming letters dealt in any way with government, we were to let him know so he could give an appropriate response. I was assigned to write to Nisa, who was in the administration of the men's residence in Chicago; and also to Guadalupe, who was in Mexico. Maria Luisa was assigned to write to England, where Carmen Rios was regional directress, and to Spain. Maria Luisa and I wrote by turns to Chile, Argentina, Colombia, and Venezuela. Moreover, Maria Luisa wrote to Germany, where there was no Opus Dei house, although Marianne Isenberg, the first German woman numerary, and Valerie Jung lived in Bonn. Both left Opus Dei a number of years later, due mainly to the lack of tact shown by Opus Dei priests and superiors, as I will explain below. I used to write to Teddy Burke, the first Irish numerary, who had gathered several more numeraries around her in Dublin. In the first letter we had to explain our mission in Rome. The reaction of all the regional directresses was very positive, because they knew Maria Luisa and me personally.

Monsignor Escriva warned us that our mission imposed the "silence of office," which meant that we could never speak to anyone about anything that we had dealt with in the secretarial room, and that consequently our work was not a topic for our weekly confidence. He also said that we would have to keep informed about everything that happened in the secretarial office, and that we both had to read all the mail, including personal letters that were directed to him, and that only when there was something out of the ordinary should we give him those letters, but otherwise, we should file them.

Letters to the Father

The letters to the Father deserve special mention. From the time you wrote "the letter" to Monsignor Escriva as president general requesting admission to Opus Dei, the superiors told us that it was good spirit and "the Father saw with pleasure as a manifestation of spirit of filiation" that we write him as least once a month. We had to give this letter to the directress of the house who was obligated to forward it to Monsignor Escriva through the superiors of that country without reading it. We were also told that we could write to the Father in a sealed envelope whenever we wished.

When Maria Luisa Moreno de Vega and I began to read the letters to the Father from all Opus Dei women of all countries where we worked at that time, I remember perfectly that we did so with the greatest respect and we never allowed ourselves the slightest commentary about any of them. Needless to say, we handed over the letters that came in sealed envelopes -- one arrived now and then -- directly and immediately to Monsignor Escriva, who often told us to read them ourselves afterwards.

Letters from the numeraries to the Father were ordinarily brief. Their contents varied but were usually speaking about the work in a new country, frequently about their interior life, about proselytism. Generally the numeraries who were superiors in a country spoke about the financial difficulties of getting started, of some misunderstanding or disagreement with the counselor of the country, or some problem of perseverance, or the difficulty in finding the first vocations. These were almost constant topics in the letters to the Father.

What shone through in these letters was the degree of maturity of the numerary who wrote them. For example, when the directress of the United States wrote to the Father, she opened new horizons for us, because she made us understand how she confronted a totally new panorama of manners, customs, and lifestyles, how she had to deal with the problem of Spanish numeraries who wanted to study when they arrived in the United States as they tried to adapt to the life of a normal girl in that country. We could even feel the difficulty of the language and the distances in traveling to do apostolate. I remember the case of a numerary who became seriously ill, so that the directress had to spend hours on the train to visit her frequently in the hospital.

There was a notable difference in the letters from the fanatical numeraries and those who tried to adapt quickly to the new country.

My personal letters to Monsignor Escriva years later when I was in Venezuela almost always spoke of our activities in that country, of progress in apostolate, of new vocations. Other times, I spoke about the possibility and desire to have a center of studies as soon as possible, and in the last period of my stay in Venezuela about lack of support from the counselor when we dealt with the topic of the administrations.

When the number of vocations began to increase in Opus Dei, the members were assured that the Father read absolutely all the letters as his principal work. It was difficult for many people to believe this, but it was our obligation to assure them. When the central government of the Women's Branch began to function in 1953, each of the assessors read the letters to the Father from the members of the region assigned to her; afterwards these letters were read by the central directress and the Women's Branch government secretary. It was a matter of their judgment and discretion whether or not to give the letter to the Father. In this first Opus Dei Women's Branch government in Rome there were some very young immature numeraries, who on occasion made fun of what a numerary wrote to the Father, which personally infuriated me.

However, when I was no longer in Rome it was difficult to write the Father with spontaneity and confidentiality, and I used a sealed envelope a number of times, when I did not want my letter to be the subject of interpretation by the assessor.

In reality, saying that the Father read the letters from the members was a lie that they were resolved to maintain. Monsignor Escriva and Alvaro del Portillo knew that as did all of us who had been in Rome as numeraries in the central government, including me. As a major superior, I affirmed the statement, knowing that it was a lie, a "lie required" by my superiors, including the Father.

Maria Luisa Moreno de Vega and I, as the Father's secretaries, executed every instruction received from him with complete responsibility. This was a full-time job, except for some time in the morning spent cleaning the Villa Sacchetti administration, or at the end of the afternoon when the numeraries of the house went into the Villa Vecchia to clean the rooms for the Father and Don Alvaro and the vestibule which was the size of a small bull ring. We were generally absorbed in this work until the Father went to supper.

Maria Luisa and I worked well together. The fact that we had been coworkers before, helped us to work as a team. Beside, Maria Luisa was a very good person, sensitive and well educated. She had attended the German School in Madrid and had complete mastery of German. My education in a French school similarly equipped me with a good command of French. We both could understand and write English. Monsignor Escriva appreciated all this. We both took learning Italian very seriously, something that our linguistic talent and strenuous effort let us accomplish in a few months without a single grammar class.

In our personal relations or in our work, it never mattered that Maria Luisa was a major superior and I was not. She was very sensible and never said anything that could remotely amount to asserting her authority.

There were few days on which we did not see the Father and Don Alvaro. Both came to the secretarial room or called us after lunch to go up to the Villa to go over something or other. In fact, while the Father and Don Alvaro had lunch, Maria Luisa and I would go to the kitchen so as not to make the Father wait in case he called us. At lunch and supper time, Encarnita was also in the kitchen, since she took care of the Father's meals.

The Father's meals were brought up to his dining room, measured and weighed according to instructions from a physician, transmitted via Don Alvaro. We knew the Father had a special diet, but no one spoke openly of what was wrong. Unquestionably, he had diabetes, as one of Monsignor's official biographers confirmed after his death. [1]

While we waited in case the Father called, we helped the numeraries in charge of the kitchen prepare the teatime snacks for the whole house.

Many mornings when the Father arrived in the secretarial room, he spoke to us about future plans for the Opus Dei Women's Branch. More than once, he showed his discontent with the church, and criticized Pope Pius XII. I remember him say: "Daughters, you don't realize what is happening around you; my hands and feet are tied. This man (i.e., Pius XII] doesn't understand us; he doesn't let me move; I'm cooped up here." He gestured with his hands as if to say, "This is incomprehensible." More than once I heard Monsignor Escriva say in slightly different words that the Pope didn't let him leave Rome.

One day Monsignor Escriva said to me that, in time, he would send me to France because he knew I loved that country. And, in fact, in the Villa dining room, he introduced us to Father Fernando Maycas, who was going to France as counselor, and to Father Alfonso Par, who was going to Germany as counselor, telling them that very possibly I would go as directress to France and Maria Luisa to Germany in some government role.

Monsignor Escriva assigned me to take charge of the passports and residence permits for all the numeraries who lived in Villa Sacchetti. My responsibility would be to make sure that both were valid. Don Alvaro would tell me what I had to do about the residence permits. This became one of my regular duties during my stay in Rome and obliged me to go out frequently to the Roman police headquarters (Questura ramana). Our residence permits in Italy were very peculiar, because, although members of a secular institute, we availed ourselves of a law designed for members of religious congregations residing in Italy. We had to fill in a form that had previously been validated by a Vatican agency, located outside Vatican City. I prepared the forms for each case, and Don Alvaro signed them for submission to the Vatican agency. I would then bring the forms and the passports to police headquarters. The Father stressed how lucky we were not to be like "those little nuns" who had to go one by one, all confused, to arrange for their residence permits. After a few years I got to know the staff at the Questura romana, and they knew me. Once they even remarked that, given the time I had been in Italy, they could easily arrange for me to acquire Italian citizenship. I did not accept. Why would I want to be Italian, if I lived in Villa Sacchetti, the Father's house ... ?

Speaking of passports, I recall two things vividly: first, immediately on arrival, the numeraries had to hand over their passports, which they did not see again until the day they left Rome or when it was necessary to renew them, and they went with me to the respective consulate. Second, there was a rather young police officer who periodically came to Villa Sacchetti to revise passports and residence permits. We had hundreds of foreigners and it was logical they they should check their information. I was in charge of meeting and speaking with him. When I told the Father about the police officer, he suggested that we should always have a bottle of Spanish brandy ready to give to that officer.

On another occasion, in the secretarial room, Monsignor Escriva instructed us to take note of the things he said as we went along, "because they would be for posterity." I paid attention to what he had to say during my time in Rome. I regarded it as a special sign of trust. It never crossed my mind that this was Monsignor Escriva's campaign to start constructing his own altar.

When Maria Luisa and I arrived in Rome, Encarnita Ortega was in charge of the diary of Villa Sacchetti. Shortly thereafter she passed it on to me. In all the houses of Opus Dei the custom is to keep a diary, but the diary of the house in Rome had greater significance within Opus Dei because it reflected many daily events in the life of the Founder. Encarnita instructed me that when I noticed that the Father showed obvious anger, I had to use a phrase such as "Today the Father was displeased because we did not put enough love of God in such and such task." I wrote this diary for a number of years. If, for some reason, I was not going to be able to do it on a given day, I had to notify the directress, so she could write it or assign someone else to do so.

The first part of my stay in Rome was one of my most interesting periods in Opus Dei. Out of blindness, or fanaticism, I was changing into such an automaton that nothing and nobody had importance in my life except that house, the Father, and Encarnita. Everything revolved around Monsignor Escriva, whom we usually saw several times a day. Looking back, I perceive perfectly the essence of Opus Dei's sectarian character. We were absolutely overwhelmed by different types of physical work; if there was a free moment, it was to accomplish the plan of spiritual norms of life. Everything was sprinkled with the presence and indoctrination of the Founder. There was not the slightest relaxation except for a daily half hour get- together with the servants, either playing ball in the Cortile del Cipresso, a very small patio with a cypress in the middle, in summer or, in winter, chatting or singing in the ironing room, the very place where we spent the greater part of our day. We had no music and needless to say we did not listen to the radio. Villa Sacchetti was and continues to be an island in the great city of Rome, whose life is only the Work and its Founder. Everything else has no importance. If we went out, we obviously saw people and the city, but the occasions to go out were exclusively to make necessary purchases, for the house, our work, or something like shoes. It was as if we were in our own world, passing next to but without mixing with any other.

I thought then I was free, because we were allowed a freedom within well defined limits. But it was not genuine Christian freedom which allows you to exercise free choice on the basis of familiarity with a situation without the bridle of "good" or "bad" spirit. Opus Dei members have only the freedom which "the good spirit of the Work" permits after consultation with their superiors, even on professional, political, and social questions. It would be interesting to know what an organization like Amnesty International would make of Opus Dei if it had the necessary access to sufficient information to make an objective analysis.

We did not do any direct apostolate. That was entrusted to the Italian region. Our work was totally internal: the administration of the Father's house or Villa Vecchia and of the incipient Roman College of the Holy Cross whose construction had just started. When I arrived in Rome, the male numeraries who were students at the Roman College of the Holy Cross still lived in what was called the Pensionato. [2] Their meals were served in the administration's dining room.

One day in the ironing room we heard great shouting and screams from the Father. Frightened, I thought that something very serious was happening and he was calling us. I was about to open the door from the ironing room onto the Gallery of the Madonna, when one of the senior numeraries in the house warned me quietly: "Don't go out. The Father must be correcting the architect." In fact, I heard Monsignor Escriva shout at the architect many times. First, Fernando de La Puente, and later, when he was sent back to Spain because of illness, a rather young man named Jesus Gazapo who took Fernando's job. On another occasion I witnessed the very unpleasant scene of the Father scolding Encarnita because she was nearsighted and did not want to wear glasses. Encarnita blushed to the roots of her hair and her chronic headache was worse that day.

It was easy to pick out those whom the Father scolded. The kitchen often triggered Monsignor Escriva's bad temper. One of the numeraries who worked there would open the window, and odors would waft up to Villa Vecchia. The Villa Sacchetti kitchen is located in the bowels of the building. Although the architects experimented with different exhaust systems, there were always cooking odors. This exasperated Monsignor Escriva to a degree that it is difficult to describe. I saw him on occasion enter the kitchen, go straight to the open window, and slam it shut. Strangely, he did not understand that the heat in the kitchen made it unbearable, unless the windows could be open.

As directress of the house, Encarnita was on the receiving end of most of his scoldings. For example, when one of the servants or one of us had forgotten a dust cloth or a rag to wax the floor in the administrated house. For whatever reason, the target of the Father's ire was ordinarily Encarnita. I always admired the manner in which Encarnita accepted abuses as "good spirit," but I realize today that rather than good spirit, Encarnita really had a morbid love for the Father. She must have considered the scoldings a sign of predilection. In fact, there was a phrase repeated among the numeraries of many countries: "Blessed are they who receive the Father's scoldings," because they were a sign that they were close to him. Monsignor Escriva certainly did not have a mild manner.

Encarnita had quite a different relationship with Don Alvaro del Portillo. Alvaro was a person with whom Encarnita could speak about anything and in fact took advantage of all sorts of circumstances to do so. She would tell him that we needed money or mention the Father's health or meals, or inform him about a serious problem of some numerary or servant. How could Encarnita speak to Don Alvaro if the separation between the Men's and Women's Branches of Opus Dei is total? For instance, if he came down to the dining room for supper alone, while we cleaned the Villa Vecchia vestibule, Encarnita could speak to him for a few minutes. Other times from the directress's room by intercom, and sometimes, when the Father was leaving the Villa dining room, if Don Alvaro fell back a little, Encarnita took advantage of a few minutes to ask him or consult him about something.

Monsignor Escriva had given Encarnita permission to use the familiar Spanish "tu" instead of the formal "usted," when addressing priests of the Work.

The Father's tantrums terrified me, because I did not know how I might react if he were to scold me. Until now I had heard only what he had said to others.

At that time, Monsignor Escriva and Don Alvaro del Portillo used to come to the ironing room after their supper. Since they came almost daily, we used to have two chairs ready for them. The numeraries who worked in the sewing section were at the front. Sometimes the servants who did ironing were on the side which faced the Cypress Courtyard, or those who were in the laundry room continued ironing and washing unless the Father specifically told them to join the group.

Entering the ironing room the Father would always say Pax loud enough for all of us to hear him, and he would repeat it several times. He would enter with a characteristic gesture of his hands, a little thrust out and hanging.
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When he was seated, he usually crossed his hands and rested them on his lap, but he would never cross his legs, at least not in our presence. If he wore the clerical cape (manteo) he would wrap it around himself, while he looked over us saying, "Let's see. What can you tell me today, daughters?" Often there was a profound silence. Nobody dared to speak. Then he would say, "Well, if you don't have anything to tell me, I will leave." A murmur of protest would follow: "No Father, no."

Unless Encarnita threw out a topic for the Father or instructed some servant to do so, the Father would address Julia, one of the first numerary servants, a Basque, who was older than most, and would say: "Well, Julia, you say something, daughter."

Julia was intelligent and knew how to pick a subject that might interest Monsignor Escriva.

On one of his visits to the ironing room, Monsignor Escriva announced that for the first time in the Work Mexican numerary servants were going to come to Rome. Then, addressing Maria Luisa Moreno de Vega and me, he asked us jokingly, "How come you haven't told your sisters who is going to come from Mexico?" We smiled in silence. "Daughters, your sisters have not told you because they are obliged to keep the silence of office. But, let's see, speak up! Who is coming?"

Maria Luisa and I responded: "Constantina, Chabela, and Pelancho, Gabriela Duclos, Mago, and Marta, a Mexican architect; all numeraries."

So, Monsignor Escriva spoke about Mexico, about the work Opus Dei was doing there, and that an estate in Montefalco had just been donated to the Work, where, "if we remain faithful," an agricultural school and farm would be started for peasant girls.

At other times, Monsignor Escriva spoke to us about the progress of the construction of the Roman College of the Holy Cross and asked us to pray for Don Alvaro, who was responsible for the finances and each Saturday had to pay the workers.

Many other times the conversation turned to how "smart we had to be in life"; he "did not want stupid daughters." He added: "Daughters, don't be silly like nuns." When he said this he would change his voice and with his hands pressed to his face mimic a fatuous person, which provoked great laughter among the servant numeraries and unfortunately among many ordinary numeraries as well.

On one occasion, someone said that she had been to Ciampino, the international airport in Rome, and had seen a large group of Spanish nuns waiting for their mother general. When they saw her descend the steps of the plane, they began jumping up and down and shouting: "Our mother, Our mother! Here comes our mother!"

Monsignor Escriva roared with laughter, saying: "how amusing, but how amusing!"

As the years went by, Monsignor Escriva was received much the same way.

In this regard, Monsignor Escriva told us that "nuns are stupid," adding that the only nun he visited was Sor Lucia in Portugal, "not because she had seen Our Lady, but because she loves us [Opus Dei] very much." He generally added: "She is somewhat silly, although a good woman."

One of those evenings Monsignor Escriva also reported that Sor Lucia in Portugal once had said: "Don Jose Maria, you in your place and I in mine, we can also go to hell."

As I mentioned above, we did not do direct apostolate in Villa Sacchetti. However, Encarnita Ortega used to go once a week to the house of the Italian region to speak to married women and do apostolate with them. That also gave the numeraries who were there the chance to speak to her and provided Encarnita the opportunity to find out what was going on in the Italian region, information she passed on to the Father or Don Alvaro.

One day I asked Encarnita about the numeraries in the Italian region, especially Pilarin Navarro, who was the regional directress and one of the first women in the Work. She spoke quite harshly of Pilarin Navarro Rubio. They were from the same city, she said; Pilarin had a lot of relatives in Opus Dei, especially her brothers Emilio, a numerary who years later was ordained a priest, and Mariano, one of the first supernumeraries, who would eventually be a member of Franco's cabinet. Encarnita said that Pilarin was very proud and had had differences with the Father, because she did not have affection for him. Encarnita added bluntly that the Father did not trust Pilarin, because there was "something" about her that he did not like, and Encarnita hinted at something very serious. The Father was apprehensive during the meals that Pilarin prepared for him when she was in the kitchen, because he did not feel sure of her. Encarnita Ortega also added that the Italian region had very serious financial problems because "they had no idea of doing any apostolate" and that Maria Teresa Longo, the first Italian vocation, whose brother was also a numerary did not seem a very secure vocation. She liked Chelo Salafranca and said that she was a numerary who loved the Father very much and that she was great at doing proselytism. Oddly enough, years later Chelo Salafranca staged a rather spectacular escape from Opus Dei.

Some afternoons the first two Italian supernumeraries, Mrs. Lantini and Mrs. Marchesini, would visit. They would be brought up to the ironing room where they would help us. Both had numerary sons. Mrs. Lantini was charming, wore glasses and was quite deaf. She must have been very pretty at one time. Mrs. Marchesini was cheerful, very pleasant, with hair dyed blond, chatty, and had a somewhat shrill voice. When she came on Saturdays and sang the Salve Regina with little trills, she provoked great hilarity amongst us.

One day, Mrs. Marchesini commented that King George VI of England had died. All of us were more or less startled to hear the news and said: "The King of England has died?" The lady was astonished that we didn't know this. "But how could you not know? He died several days ago." Encarnita responded smartly: "I knew, but I didn't want to upset them."

We did not laugh at her response until after the lady had departed. Naturally Encarnita confessed after Mrs. Marchesini left that she did not have the slightest idea that the King of England had died.

That afternoon, when Monsignor Escriva and Don Alvaro came to the ironing room, we told them about the visits by Mrs. Lantini and Mrs. Marchesini, and especially about Encarnita's response concerning the death of the King of England.

At that point, I am not sure which of the numeraries remarked: "So, Father, now Princess Elizabeth, who is so young, will be Queen of England."

The person had not finished her sentence, when Monsignor Escriva rose violently from his chair, gathered up his cape, headed for the middle of the ironing room, shouting at the top of his lungs: "Don't speak to me about that woman! I don't want to hear you talk about her! She is the devil! The devil! Don't talk to me again about her! Understood? Well, now you know!"

Slamming the ironing room door shut, he went out toward the Gallery of the Madonna. We were all still stupefied, when he returned to stick his head through the door without coming in, to repeat again: "Understood? Do not speak to me ever again about that woman!"

Before he slammed the door for the second time, Don Alvaro, with his usual affability and smile, probably trying to smooth things over, looked at us and said, Pax, also departing toward the Gallery of the Madonna.

Encarnita immediately told us that we should return to our work and that we should not talk about the matter. She instructed me personally not to write anything about this in the house diary.

I kept wondering why Princess Elizabeth would be the devil. The explanation for what I did not understand and what impressed us all so much then became very clear to me when I left Opus Dei: Monsignor Escriva had no grasp of ecumenical spirit, contrary to what Peter Berglar (an Opus Dei supernumerary and one of Monsignor Escriva's official biographers) tries to demonstrate. [3] Monsignor Escriva's remark to His Holiness John XXIII, as reported by Berglar, is in my judgment disrespectful, to say the least. That a monarch and, to make matters worse, a woman, was head of the Church of England must have aroused indignation in Monsignor Escriva. Given this view, years later, but still during Monsignor Escriva's lifetime, Opus Dei had the cynicism to invite the Queen Mother to inaugurate Netherhall House, the Opus Dei residence in London. When I found out, I thought it would have been interesting to know the reaction of the Queen Mother and the Court of St. James if it had become known that the Founder of the group whose residence she had been invited to inaugurate had called her daughter, the Queen, a "devil" with such passion and conviction.

Monsignor Escriva's reaction on this matter will never be erased from my memory. I am, therefore, astonished when Opus Dei claims that its Founder had ecumenical spirit. He did not have it ever, as can be seen in the first edition of his book, Camino (The Way), where this spirit is fundamentally absent. [4]

Cleaning and Miscellaneous Jobs

Cleaning was a major part of our life during this period in Rome. It is always important in every Opus Dei house, since along with cooking it is the essential part of the activities of administration. Monsignor called the work of administration "the apostolate of apostolates." He also used to add that it was like the skeleton upon which absolutely all the houses of women and men rested and that "without the women the Work would suffer an authentic collapse."

When I arrived in Rome the cleaning was murder. First, every morning a group of numeraries and servants went to the Pensionato. About sixty Opus Dei male numeraries lived there. Some numeraries went to the Lateran and others to the Angelicum to do their theses in philosophy, theology, and canon law, while some stayed at the house "watching construction workers." By express order of Monsignor Escriva the workers were "never to be left alone." Since the financial situation was very shaky in those years, many of the numeraries walked to save money on transportation, and the Father used to tell us that smokers should cut their cigarettes in half so that they would last longer.

We had very little time to clean the Pensionato. It was like a military operation. While the numeraries made beds, the servants did bathrooms. Although there were few bedrooms, there were many three-tiered bunks, so that making the beds was quite an operation. We could often see the Father and Don Alvaro get in or come out of Monsignor Escriva's car. His chauffeur, who also washed the Father's car, was the first Portuguese numerary. We could also see the comings and goings of male numeraries in the garden, while they waited for us to finish cleaning their living room.

The printing press, which male numeraries ran, was in the Pensionato. It was located in the two smallest rooms, and we had specific instructions not to touch anything, except to empty the waste paper baskets. The cleaning of the Pensionato took place in the morning and very rapidly.

Then there was the cleaning of our house by sections: the bedrooms, bathrooms, the stairs, the soggiorno, and the galleries, the servant responsible for the oratory, the sacristy, and the visitors' parlor, the servants' compartments or camarillas, the ironing and laundry rooms. Julia, the older servant, was in charge of the gardens with Chabela, the Mexican.

Big cleaning projects were shared by all, such as putting red wax on the tiles of the Gallery of the Madonna, the floors of Villa Sacchetti, the stairs, the servants' compartments. The difficulty about applying the red wax was not to stain the white sandstone border and to make the tiles shine by buffing with your feet or on your knees.

Every afternoon as soon as the workers left, we entered Villa Vecchia where Monsignor Escriva had his provisional rooms, his oratory, and his work space. Encarnita or, in her absence, Mary Altozano made Monsignor Escriva and Don Alvaro's beds and cleaned their rooms with another numerary and two servants. The rest of the numeraries remained in the Villa vestibule, which had a newly finished wooden floor. The wood was completely dry and rather dirty. Cleaning that floor meant applying turpentine with stiff brushes to remove all stains. The liquid had to be removed and then the wax was applied. The vestibule was immense. Finally, we all tried to put a bit of shine on the floor by buffing it with our feet. So it went afternoon after afternoon, month after month.

On Sundays we had so-called extraordinary cleaning of the Retreat House, the first location of Opus Dei's Roman College of the Holy Cross at Viale Bruno Buozzi, 73. The construction workers were finishing, and it was necessary to clean everything. The main thing was to remove drops of paint and cement using razor blades discarded by the male numeraries. To get more use out of the blades, we would divide them in two. Our hands were full of cuts, because all this was done without gloves.

The Procura Generalizia was finished, and this was another cleaning project done frequently but not daily. The main entrance to the Procura Generalizia is in Via di Villa Sacchetti, 30. It was built as the reception area for visitors to the president general. The Procura Generalizia consisted of a vestibule, a visitors' parlor, a small bath, an oratory, and a dining room for twelve. The French-style furniture was so delicate that we had to use white cotton gloves to dust it.

Monsignor Escriva was accustomed to invite people he considered important to lunch in this dining room. He dined there several times with his physician, Dr. Carlo Faelli, and his wife. At other times, it was a cardinal or a bishop. The instructions regarding guests were clear and specific, as was also the rule that nobody should be served before the Father. Because of this, two maids attended the dining room, simultaneously serving the Father and the guest of honor.

When there were guests for lunch, I used to assist Encarnita in preparing the table and the floral centerpiece, and stay with her in the pantry while the meal lasted.

So, I played a fairly prominent role on many occasions. It seems that I was very efficient in matters relating to guests and in settling questions of etiquette, particularly in relation to embassies and consulates.

Inconceivable as it now seems to me, this made me aware of the great confidence that Monsignor Escriva and Encarnita had in me and made me very happy. What I did not realize then was that they were using me. Not until I was out of Opus Dei, did I notice how, under the guise of "good spirit," "love of the Father and the Work," Opus Dei exploits all its members. The Father's opinion and keeping the Father happy mattered more than God.

On Sundays we usually did not clean the administration to increase the numbers of those who could go over to the Retreat House or to wherever the workers might have finished.

Evidently, those cleaning sessions were traced for us the previous day by Don Alvaro. Neither Monsignor Escriva nor Don Alvaro ever put in an appearance where we were cleaning. Until the Father's meal time, Encarnita put her shoulder to the wheel with the best of us.

With this exercise, those of us who lived in Villa Sacchetti were thin as toothpicks, although we ate well. Encarnita, by contrast, barely ate.

After the day's work, we ended up in the ironing room, where the servants ironed and went over clothing, and the numeraries did many other things.

Since we were unable to cope with all the cleaning, Monsignor Escriva ordered that several more numeraries should come to the Rome administration. The Father wanted some Women's Branch central government major superiors. He requested that some of those who held positions of authority in the government should come to Rome, not as major superiors but simply as numeraries to help in the administration. The first persons to arrive were Marisa Sanchez de Movellan, Lourdes Toranzo, Pilar Salcedo, and others who had no government position in Spain, like Catherine Bardinet, Maria Jose Monterde, and Begona Mujica.

In his biography of Monsignor Escriva, Peter Berglar reports a conversation between the Founder and Pilar Salcedo in 1968, when she was still an Opus Dei numerary, in which he is quoted as follows: "For me the work of a daughter who is a domestic servant is as important as the work of a daughter who has a title in the nobility." [5] That claim is false. Without involving the aristocracy, which will eventually come up, let us use one example of wealth. When Catherine Bardinet, the first French numerary, was sent to Rome, there was no other French woman. Catherine requested admission very young and her parents, owners of Bardinet liqueurs in France, were less than enthusiastic about their daughter's vocation. Catherine's contact with her family was mainly through her mother. Without wanting a complete break, her father maintained a hostile attitude. The couple wrote their daughter Catherine telling her they were going on a cruise around the Mediterranean and that they would like her to accompany them. When Catherine told us, we began to joke with her, and each time we had a heavy cleaning project, we said we were going on a cruise. Then, Encarnita explained the situation to the Father and said that when the Bardinets came to visit their daughter, they wanted to greet him.

One day Encarnita announced that Catherine's parents had arrived. To our astonishment she also said that the Father would come down to our parlor to greet the Bardinets. Beyond question, "it was suitable to win over" these people, given their supposed wealth.

The Father came down to the parlor with Don Alvaro and without any kind of introduction approached Monsieur Bardinet, saying, "Another fat person like me! How could we not get along well?"

He gave him a warm embrace. Needless to say, Catherine Bardinet went on the cruise around the Mediterranean with her parents.

Such treatment was unheard of, given the restrictions placed on dealings with our families. Not only to see them, but to go on a cruise! [6]

So, respectfully I regret that I have to contradict Dr. Peter Berglar, who as a male never lived in any Opus Dei women's house. Nor, it would appear from his book, did he ever speak with any female numerary, but limited himself to information on the Women's Branch and Monsignor Escriva presented by Encarnita Ortega in Monsignor Escriva's beatification process. Berglar notwithstanding, not all numeraries were the same to Monsignor Escriva.

For a number of months in 1952-53 we repaired a tapestry that the architect or some other male numerary had found in an antique shop. The tapestry was handed over to us to be washed. It was an enormous pile of rubbish, all torn, and we could not even tell what it was supposed to represent. They told us to wash it well with soap and water, and several of us set to work assisted by some of the servants. The first step was to remove a red backing, which attached to the tapestry, so that the color would not run during washing. When this was done, we found the seal of authentication. When they gave us the tapestry, they had informed us that it was attributed to Michelangelo, but until we found the seal, there was no certainty about this. There was indeed great rejoicing at our find. Because it was too big to hang in the laundry, several of us carried it out to be hung on the wall of the Cypress Courtyard. As it was drying -- a process that took several days -- we tried to guess what the picture in the tapestry might be. It was so deteriorated that nothing was clear. One very imaginative person claimed to see a little girl at the bottom of the tapestry. I only saw an arm. Meanwhile, Monsignor Escriva directed Mercedes Angles, a numerary who was extraordinarily gifted in embroidery, to devote all her time to restoring the tapestry and to tell him when she expected to be able to finish.

When Mercedes began the project, she announced it would take several months. That seemed to us all like an eternity, but she was right. Mary Carmen Sanchez Merino began to help in the restoration, and eventually we all did. An enormous frame was set up in the ironing room, so that eight of us could work on the tapestry from both sides. One day, Monsignor Escriva came into the ironing room and asked Mary Carmen how the tapestry was coming. With her charming Andalusian accent, she responded: "Father, I'm still on the little rolls (panesillos)."

After several months of hard work, the tapestry was finally finished and hung for posterity on the Villa Vecchia staircase wall. Then a painter touched it up. In effect, a prophet handing bread to a youth turned out to be the central figure of the tapestry. Perhaps it was based on some biblical passage; the sketch was attributed to Michelangelo.

Since there was not an instant during the day to work on these things, we worked at night until after 2 A.M. To fight drowsiness, we told jokes, made up stories, and exhausted our repertories of songs. Thus, between humor and real life, song and song, at the sacrifice of our sleep and rest, we handwove all of the knotted rugs in the buildings. The rug we made for the dining room of the Procura Generaliza seemed to me like the physical embodiment of infinity. Gray, without design, it went on indefinitely. It totally covered the room.

Since we worked until late at night, we were all drowsy, and for months we all confessed to the same mistake. "I fell asleep during the priest's meditation." There were so many priests in Rome during this period, that each afternoon a different one gave us the meditation, and it was easy to notice us dropping off to sleep. I remember Maria Luisa Moreno de Vega saying, "For Heaven's sake, let's wake each other up, because otherwise, one of these days, the priest is going to tiptoe out of the oratory in order not to wake us up."

After more than a year, the news that we were falling asleep reached Monsignor Escriva, who, to our great surprise, instructed us to sleep eight hours a night. It is hard to understand why he had been unaware of our situation, because a normal workday did not suffice for all the tasks assigned to us.


Our get-together or period of rest was only a half hour daily and an hour on Sunday. The female numeraries had only one get-together a day, whereas the male numeraries had two.

Our get-togethers included the numerary servants. Occasionally, on Sundays some of the numeraries from the Italian region would come with two or three of the numerary servants assigned to Italy. As I have mentioned, in summer we would play some kind of basketball without a basket with the servants. Other times we chatted and told them anecdotes about some house or other. Preferred topics were events from the early days of the Work, things the Father had said, or something that had happened while we were out on errands. We never discussed current events, world politics, or anything similar. The "world" for us consisted of those countries where Opus Dei had been founded. As a special treat for those Sunday get-togethers, a selected letter from the numeraries or servant numeraries in Mexico or Chicago might be read. This was the world for Opus Dei numeraries in the central house in Rome.

Matters related to poverty or world hunger, basic human social problems in other words, were never even raised. We were told more than once that such matters were the concern of religious associations. From Chicago Nisa Guzman began to send issues of Vogue, Harper's Bazaar and similar magazines from time to time, but some puritanical numerary told Encarnita that many of the models who appeared in those magazines looked like loose women. Consequently, those magazines ceased to circulate in get-togethers. By exception we were allowed to look at dresses in those magazines, if we were going to make one, but only when a number of pages had been prudently torn out.

Although I tried to participate in these get-togethers, I found them quite dull. When I said this in my confidence, I was accused of being bored with the servants, of having "bad spirit." I really loved the servant numeraries, but that type of get- together did not relax me at all. They also told me that the get-together was not a time of rest, but for charity. Other times, if we were in the ironing room as usually happened in the winter, we sang songs of the Work, and it was almost a ritual that volunteers would perform some kind of regional dance. Maria Jose Monterde, who was from Zaragoza and executed the Aragonese jota very well, performed the dance for the Father several times. Monsignor Escriva was very fond of her. Fortunately, when the Mexican servants arrived, the chapaneca and the bamba were also added, which were at least entertaining because of the new rhythms.

The arrival of Mexicans broadened the very limited horizon of that house as well, because new customs, other names, previously unknown events began to be mentioned. However, some of the events narrated by the Mexican servants brought fraternal corrections on the numeraries in that country, and in many instances a request for clarifications of matters that the servants had described.

Servant Numeraries

"Servant numeraries" was how Opus Dei initially denominated that class of members who devoted themselves to manual labor or domestic service in houses of the Work. [7] A rescript from Rome was dispatched to all regions in 1965 saying that the Father had ordered that henceforth the term servant numeraries should be replaced by that of auxiliary numeraries to designate Opus Dei servants. Accordingly, since that date, the term "servant" has been suppressed, and the usual designation within Opus Dei houses is "auxiliaries."

Opus Dei numerary auxiliaries have the same obligations in their spiritual life as the numeraries as regards norms of plan of life, corporal mortification, poverty, chastity, and obedience. Just like regular members, they took cold showers each morning. The servants who waited on table were required to take a shower before putting on their black uniforms.

Fundamental distinctions exist, however. Servants can never occupy positions of authority, they cannot belong to the category of inscribed members, nor work outside Opus Dei houses. Furthermore, like the male numeraries, but unlike the ordinary female numeraries, the servants sleep in regular beds with springs and mattresses.

Opus Dei servants wear whatever is customary garb in the country where they live, usually a white apron over a colored uniform. When waiting on table, they put on a black uniform with white cuffs, a small white apron, and a headpiece. In some countries like Venezuela there were slight modifications: the uniform, for example, had short instead of long sleeves, and the dining room uniform, which did have long sleeves, was dark green. In Rome, on feast days or when there were guests, they usually waited on table with white gloves. In the afternoon, the servant who is concierge wears the same black uniform with cuffs and black satin apron.

When the servants go out, they do not wear uniforms but dress as any other women of their social level. They usually dress well, may use makeup, and can dye their hair. They do not use makeup when they clean and very little when they wait on table.

Opus Dei servants sleep in tiny individual rooms called camarillas, which have a bed, a closet, sink, and sometimes a chair. There is usually a window or half window and a picture of Our Lady. These compartments tend to be larger in buildings recently constructed by Opus Dei. In Rome, the servants' compartments formed a special block. As additions were built onto the Women's compound, the number of camarillas also increased. However, the servants' rooms are never mixed with the rooms of numeraries. Everything is smaller and separate. The auxiliaries also have dining rooms separate from the numeraries, but the food is identical to that of the rest of the house.

In Rome, and some Opus Dei houses the bedding, table cloths, and towels are set off and stamped with the word servicio (servants).

Like delivery people Opus Dei servants regularly enter houses of the Work by the servants' entrance. Rarely do they use the main entrance. Therefore, every Opus Dei house has its special servants' entrance, and some large houses such as the one in Rome have an additional special entrance for deliveries. Not that delivery people enter Opus Dei houses, they merely have access to a small room or counter where they leave merchandise and are usually paid. A delivery person never enters the kitchen, for example, of any Opus Dei house.

The servants are never alone. "They can never be alone," according to the Founder's dictum. "They are like little children," the Founder repeated more than once, and indeed he called them "his little daughters." "Don't ever leave them alone on me!" he shouted at us at other times. "They have their mentality, and it is the only one they can have." Nevertheless, Monsignor Escriva claimed that many Opus Dei servants have better theological training than many priests and certainly better than the majority of nuns.

Opus Dei servants do not go out alone ever, but in pairs, always accompanied by a numerary. This last rule can be dispensed with when they are older and have been in the Work for many years.

Monsignor Escriva's obsession with never leaving the servants alone, became a torment for us. They couldn't be alone in the ironing room for five minutes. One of us always had to be with them. So, if a numerary was in the ironing room with the servants and had to go to the oratory to do her mental prayer, she notified the directress in order that another numerary, or failing that, the directress herself might come to the ironing room, while the first numerary was in the oratory. We were always with them in the house work, on excursions, and at every instant.

Even during the half hour of prayer every afternoon, a numerary always had to be with the auxiliaries. They could not go to the oratory alone as we did. We read the book for their spiritual reading out loud while they worked. They did absolutely everything with us. You were required to declare in your weekly chat with the directress if you had left the servants alone for five minutes.

The priests did not deliver special meditations for the servants. We had the same meditations and the same spiritual retreat as well.

We were with the servants all day and did the same work except for washing and ironing clothes from the men's residence, which only they did. The essential difference was in personal relations. Both sides had to address the other with the formal "usted" instead of the familiar "tu," and they addressed us as "Miss" (Senorita) plus our first name, while we called them by their first name.

The schooling of the servants was very limited. They knew how to read and write, but not much more, with the exception of Dora and Julia, the first two Opus Dei numerary servants, who were very intelligent and had worked in families of some social standing which had rubbed off enough on them to distinguish them from the rest.

Curiously, the secularity which Opus Dei claimed to pioneer did not lead it to impart any general culture to its female members, whether ordinary numeraries or servants. The servants in Rome had no classes of any kind. Many desired to learn Italian but had to be content with the little we could teach them. In later years, there were "schools for domestic servants" in some countries. Also, about 1970 in Venezuela, for example, classes for auxiliary numeraries were begun, which were equivalent to elementary education. In the special centers of study for auxiliary numeraries, they received a very basic religious instruction: apologetics, liturgy, carefully adapted to their mentality.

Monsignor Escriva treated them like little girls and encouraged childishness. They knew they were "the Father's little daughters" and behaved as such to the point that the immaturity of the servants in the Rome house was deplorable. It was pathetic to see how adult women acted like thirteen-year-olds as a result of their indoctrination.

Needless to say, if the numeraries always were accompanied by another numerary to go to the dentist or any physician, much more so the servants. This regulation was extended to all countries where the Opus Dei has been founded.

We could never reprimand auxiliaries nor could we give them fraternal corrections directly. If we saw that one of them had done something out of order, we were to tell the directress so that another servant or the directress herself could correct her in the confidence. Nor could they make fraternal corrections to us. If we did something wrong, they went to the directress, who took charge of making the appropriate correction.

The Opus Dei servants in Rome at that time were all Spaniards and had the typical Spanish rural mentality of the time. Some of them with a more refined demeanor had been maids or nannies in upper middleclass households.

Auxiliaries also help in farmwork or in the press, but they never abandon their household chores. According to the Founder an auxiliary could never aspire to be more than a good servant.

The mentality of the Spanish auxiliaries of that period tended toward servility and was aggravated in Rome because of their childish fanaticism. If for the numeraries the whole of life revolved around Monsignor Escriva, for the servants there was no other goal nor God than "the Father."

One servant who merits a few lines of her own is Rosalia Lopez. She was from a town in Castille. She was thin, a bit taller than average, with dark hair and sharp features, very small twinkling eyes, certainly not beautiful, but clean-looking. Besides being childish, she could only absorb what physically related to the Father. She had no capacity to grasp anything else. If she wanted something, she pleaded like a child. If something didn't please her, she would put on a dour face and lapse into deep silence. In many ways she considered herself the Father's "defender." She knew she was the only servant Monsignor Escriva allowed to wait on his dinner table, to which Salvador Canals Navarrete, an Opus Dei numerary priest, was invited with some frequency because he worked within the Vatican.

Rosalia was so convinced that she was indispensable to the Father that she dared confront any numerary, whether the central directress or the directress of the house administration.

Everyone in the house knew that Rosalia reported anything done or said to Monsignor Escriva. It would be equally true to say that Monsignor Escriva obviously utilized her to learn what visitors arrived, who went out, and so forth.

To my astonishment I recall one day when Monsignor Escriva asked me about the priest who had come to visit me. As it happened, Father Rambla had come to see what could be done to establish better relations between me and my mother. Although the directress obviously knew I had had this visit, she had not said anything to Monsignor Escriva, because there was no reason to do so. Rosalia's exchanges with Monsignor Escriva were pure gossip, prompted by Monsignor Escriva himself.

The game was unbelievable: there were numeraries who danced to Rosalia's tune in the hope that their name would be mentioned to the Father. By contrast, I have seen Rosalia frequently come down to the kitchen while waiting on Monsignor Escriva with crocodile tears confronting the director and even Encarnita, while she protested: "You people are going to kill the Father. You've given him oily food, and he has not been able to eat today." With a gesture of displeasure she would exhibit the little tray prepared for Monsignor Escriva as she deposited it on the kitchen table. This was after the directress or the person in charge of the kitchen or both had measured with a dropper the oil to be used in the Father's meal.

Other times, Rosalia came down to the kitchen giving orders: "The Father wants to have coffee served today in the Roman College dining room." If anyone dared to ask, "Why?" she answered completely scandalized: "Miss, the Father has said so."

Monsignor Escriva frequently had her sit down at his table after lunch or dinner and tell him things. It is unnecessary to add that "the things" were always administration gossip. Rosalia like to humiliate numeraries insinuating "her sources." For instance, the last time I was in Rome during 1965-66, Rosalia said to me one night: "You, Miss, forget about going back to your country. Whether you like it or not, you are going to stay in Rome."

Since I had known her for years and realized that my reaction was going to be relayed to Monsignor Escriva, I simply gave her a lesson in good spirit, telling her: "Rosalia, if you know that because you heard the Father say so, never forget that what you hear while you wait on table ought not to be repeated in the administration."

When Rosalia attended her annual formation course, the directress of the administration and the central women's directress had to figure out what servant "would please the Father" at meals. During the three-week courses Tasia waited on his table.

Serving in the Father's dining room was the maximum privilege among auxiliaries.

When houses were founded in the United States and England, Spanish servants were imported. Naturally, in the United States, they soon realized that the Spanish regime could not be followed, and observed that the ladies who frequented the house made presents to Pilar and Francisca, believing they were doing these two servants a favor. All this provoked a crisis in the lives of these two auxiliaries, with the result that they had to return to Rome. Pilar stayed in Villa Sacchetti, but Francisca had to go to the region of Italy because she was Rosalia's sister, and two sisters can never reside in the same Opus Dei house.

Subsequently, Monsignor Escriva sent a note to the countries where live-in maids were not common: "In those countries where it is not the custom to have live-in maids, they should exist but not be obvious." This meant that the servants did not always wear their uniform. They were pushed behind the scenes. Because of the failure of the Spanish numerary servants in the United States, Monsignor Escriva arranged with Father Casciaro, counselor of Mexico, to have Mexican numerary servants sent to the United States.

In countries where numeraries and servants perform housekeeping in centers of male members of the prelature, they receive a salary, though a very low one, but no social security. On the principle of poverty, these salaries go directly to the coffers of the house where the servants live. The servants do not receive any money. It is supposed that the numeraries who accompany them will pay for whatever purchases are made. Naturally, when they need clothes or shoes, they get them, but they do not handle any money.

If a family needs financial help, the Work might send a check for a ridiculously small amount, but by virtue of their vow of poverty, the servants cannot dispose of any money.

There are natives of almost all the countries where Opus Dei is established who are numerary servants, but just as Spain has provided domestic servants to the Opus Dei houses in Europe, Mexico has supplied servants to the regions of the Americas.

The social structure of the world is changing rapidly, and work as a domestic servant is no longer attractive except when it is well paid and by the hour, but Opus Dei continues maintaining the old ways that benefit the institution, but which do not correspond either to Christianity or social reality.

The servants and numeraries of the central house in Rome did not get any salary. Money transmitted to us through Don Alvaro as procurator general at the time paid for food and cleaning products for Opus Dei men's quarters and food for us. That was all. There existed no kinds of insurance policies in Opus Dei, which thrust any auxiliary numerary who, for any reason, left Opus Dei into grave difficulties.

Annual Courses: Castelgandolfo, Villa delle Rose

Annual courses are periods of formation required for all members of the Opus Dei prelature. They last from three weeks to a month.

When I arrived in Rome, our annual courses took place in Castelgandolfo together with the numeraries of the region of Italy.

Pius XII gave Opus Dei a little villa with a good piece of land in Castelgandolfo. It was said that the Women's Branch center of formation would be built there. When I came to Rome, there was no sign of such a building, but thirteen years later it became a reality: Villa delle Rose, the Roman College of Santa Maria, housed for many years Opus Dei vocations from around the world who came there to finish Opus Dei internal studies of philosophy and theology, and sometimes, since it was a branch of the University of Navarra in Spain, to do studies of pedagogy. Recently, the Roman College of Santa Maria is located near the Opus Dei women's headquarters in Rome at Via di Villa Sacchetti. Villa delle Rose remains as the center for pedagogical studies.

Villa delle Rose was the name of the Castelgandolfo house from the beginning. It was old, ugly, and uncomfortable. The women numeraries had to sleep on the dining-room floor. I still remember that when the trolley passed, the floor vibrated. The best and most comfortable part of the house was occupied by the Men's Branch. There was usually a priest with several male numeraries, and sometimes, Monsignor Escriva came to visit.

We had been told in Villa Sacchetti that we would go to Castelgandolfo by turns to do our annual course. Two weeks before I was supposed to leave, one day after the midday meal Encarnita told me that I had to go to Castelgandolfo immediately. Pilarin Navarro knew already and was waiting for me. She gave me no reason for the hurry but warned me that I had to try not to miss the bus and said that the other people would complete their course later.

I went alone. When I arrived, Pilarin Navarro, directress of the region of Italy and of the special course for new Italian vocations was surprised to see me and asked: "What did you come for?" The truth is that I didn't know, and I said so.

I began to wonder whether Encarnita had not told me the truth, because Pilarin Navarro had no idea I was coming. Why would she send me to Castelgandolfo so many days before the actual beginning of the annual course. Why was my departure so rushed?

Always wanting to find a reason, I wondered whether I had done anything wrong and she had sent me to give me time to realize my mistakes. Yet I remembered Encarnita all smiles when she spoke to me. The whole range of possibilities passed through my mind. In the end, none seemed reasonable, so I decided to say nothing about it at all until Encarnita (due to arrive for the course for the Italian girls two days later) could explain things to me.

Encarnita arrived and left on the run. I managed to reach her and ask: "What is going on? Why did you send me here?"

Not only did she not answer but she said she had to leave immediately not to miss the bus in order to be on time for the Father's supper.

Her smile irritated me even more. It was as if she mocked me.

I was extraordinarily irritated, and so angry, realizing Opus Dei's murkiness, that the thought passed through my mind to toss everything overboard and leave Opus Dei. Consequently, the next day I wrote a letter to Monsignor Escriva seeking authorization to leave Opus Dei. I gave the sealed letter to Pilarin Navarro, who was going to Villa Sacchetti, asking her to give it to Monsignor Escriva or to Don Alvaro.

That afternoon, when Father Salvador Canals came, we all passed through the confessional, and I explained what had happened and what I had done. Father Salvador, who was a very good, calm man, put me at ease and told me to rush to the phone to call Pilarin to tell her not to give my letter to anyone. That same evening, on her return from Rome, Pilarin returned my letter.

Though I did not send the letter, as a result of my irritation I retreated into almost complete silence without being rude until that blessed course ended and I returned to Rome. Moreover, logically, everything was in Italian. It was still a great effort for me to speak Italian all day long, so that life was not easy on that score either.

On August 15, 1952, we learned that Monsignor Escriva had consecrated Opus Dei to the Immaculate Heart of Mary in the shrine at Loreto. This consecration took place that year for the first time in all Opus Dei houses and is annually renewed on August 15. The words of the consecration are read by the director of each house in the oratory.

I intended to speak to Monsignor Escriva to ask the reason that impelled Encarnita to act as she had, but I did not have time. On one occasion, when I crossed paths with Don Alvaro, he said, without further ado: "You behaved like an animal in Castelgandolfo, giving such bad example."

Two days after that, the Father called me in front of Don Alvaro and Maria Luisa Moreno de Vega and gave me the biggest scolding that I can recall.

As always, he shouted. He said he had found out from Encarnita how badly I had behaved on the trip from Spain, flirting with the Italian gentleman. (The kind man had helped me climb aboard the train in Ventiemiglia on my way to Rome months earlier.) I had given him the house telephone number. I had scandalized, "scandalized!" he shouted at me, that "poor servant" who was with me on the train by reading those disgusting magazines. Above all, in Castelgandolfo, I could not have given a worse example, as one of his secretaries, submerging myself in silence.

Maria Luisa Moreno de Vega had no idea about my trip nor about what the servant said, nor about anything. The poor woman was dejected and serious. She suffered visibly.

As the Father shouted furiously at me, Don Alvaro tried to calm him, saying: "Father, I have already told her that she behaved like an animal." "Worse than an animal!" shouted the Father. "Giving bad example to all the new vocations, she, who is one of my secretaries."

When Don Alvaro tried again to soften the scolding, saying, "Father, these are already things from the day before yesterday," trying to stress how much time had elapsed, Monsignor Escriva responded: "Not at all the day before yesterday!" he shouted. "Things of yesterday."

To impress on me how badly I had behaved, he said in conclusion: "And now you know. I don't intend to speak to you for two months."

From there, in complete silence, Maria Luisa and I went to the secretarial room, after stopping in the oratory for a moment.

On the grounds that Maria Luisa Moreno de Vega was a major superior, in which capacity an ordinary numerary like myself could speak confidently on occasions, I explained what had occurred on the train. She listened very attentively; I am convinced she believed me; and she said I ought to speak to Encarnita again to assure her that everything I had previously explained to her was true. I was really crushed and the Father spoke not a word to me for two months.

Those two months seemed like an eternity. In front of everyone, Monsignor Escriva made it known that he was not speaking to me. That punishment truly caused me to shed more than one tear in my prayers.

More than two months went by when, one fine day, he began to speak to me with the greatest ease, as if nothing had happened. Remembering these events nowadays, I confess my astonishment at the capacity for suffering that a person endures when he or she follows a leader blindly. I also wonder what kind of sentiments could be in Monsignor Escriva's heart when he permitted himself to play with our feelings so insensitively.
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Part 3 of 4

Terracina: Salta di Fondi

One day Monsignor Escriva called us to say that there was a house in Terracina that met the basic needs of the students of the Roman College of Holy Cross during the summer vacation where they could be close to the beach. He told us there was a small administration but that, unfortunately, it was not suitable (no conviene) that we go swimming, although we could go for walks and "wet our feet." We should offer it up to God for the Work that our brothers might be holy.

There was not to be a regular administration in Terracina for the moment. Accordingly, the Father had resolved that his sister Carmen who was going to Rome could be in Terracina with one of us, for example, Enrica Botella, until the house that Opus Dei had acquired for Carmen and their brother Santiago was ready. He added that eventually the house would be for the Work. He told us that it was necessary to begin to clean that house even before the workers entered, because it was very dirty. He had decided that Encarnita and I accompanied by Dora and Rosalia should go, but that absolutely nobody in the house had to know about it.

Tia Carmen

We were delighted at this sign of confidence from Monsignor Escriva, since nobody knew that Tia (aunt) Carmen [8] was coming to live in Rome and absolutely nobody was aware that a house was being readied for her and Santiago. The house was on the Via degli Scipioni.

At noon Don Alvaro and the Father called to tell us which afternoons we could go. The house was a villa in a lovely residential area, and we all thought that once clean, it would be very pretty. There were four of us and each one of us attacked one sector. It was quite a battle. The house was so filthy that I remember perfectly how I had to grasp a kitchen knife with both hands to scrape the tiles of the walls of a bathroom. There was a laminated layer of grime. It was unbelievable. Several months were spent on this initial cleaning, until the workers began to come. So, we went to clean Sunday mornings. I recall that one Sunday morning Monsignor Escriva and Don Alvaro came to see us and brought assorted pastries and snacks. Obviously the Father had purchased them in a bakery. Our jubilation was extreme, naturally. From time to time we saw Javi, an extremely young numerary, gilding ceilings. Javi customarily accompanied the workers to our house and was characteristically unpleasant. Years later, this youth became the Father's secretary and custos. [9] On August 7, 1955, he was ordained a priest. When Monsignor Escriva gave us the news, I remember we made a gesture almost of repugnance. Monsignor Escriva knew through Rosalia that Javi was not well regarded by any of the women numeraries. Shortly after his ordination, Monsignor informed us that that afternoon "Don Javier" would direct our meditation. This priest was Father Javier Echevarria. He was named vicar general of the Opus Dei Prelature in 1982 and elected prelate of Opus Dei on April 21, 1994, after Bishop del Portillo's death on March 23, 1994.

Tia Carmen was in Terracina for several months during which a number of numeraries accompanied her. Encarnita spent more than a month there. When Tia Carmen's house was finally remodeled and redecorated, they brought her and Santiago to live in Rome. They had two servants recruited by the region of Italy and a dog named El Chato.

Once Tia Carmen was installed in Rome, the Father designated a few female numeraries to visit her, so that she would always have company every afternoon. Only Encarnita Ortega and Maria Jose Monterde went from Villa Sacchetti. From the Italian region Mary Altozano, Mary Carmen Sanchez Marino, and another person whom I no longer recall, usually went. It surprised me that I could not go to her house after having struggled with all the cleaning. It surprised her, too. One day she asked me: "Tell me why you can't come to my house." I answered honestly: "Tia Carmen, they haven't told me to go." When I asked if I could go, they said that the Father hadn't said anything. She made a gesture as if to say "What a bother!" and added: "I don't understand it, after you suffered through the cleaning." I laughed and let the matter die.

Tia Carmen and I got along very well. When she came to our house for lunch from time to time, she seemed smothered by people who kept kissing her and taking her by the arm. I always believed that this obsequiousness annoyed her. She and I had simple, short conversations. She felt very uncomfortable outside Spain. Although her house was very pretty, at rock bottom it was like being in a gilded cage. She could not do what she wanted, because her whole life was directly or indirectly mapped out by the Father. Yet, Monsignor Escriva did not go to see her very often, and when he went, conversation was not easy. Encarnita, who was present at more than one of these visits, told us that it was very uncomfortable to witness the silences that prevailed between Tia Carmen and the Father.

Commenting about one of these visits, Monsignor Escriva told us that one day when he went to see her, Carmen was fairly disagreeable and he remarked:

"Well, to everybody I am the Founder and president general of Opus Dei, and for you, who am I? Some nut?" [10]Tia Carmen retorted aggressively: "That's right, some nut." Monsignor Escriva recounted this with amusement, even laughing.

I had not known Tia Carmen in the early days of Diego de Leon. I only met her in Lagasca after making my admission. Since Carmen and Santiago had no house of their own, for a long time they lived at Diego de Leon, where there were a couple of rooms for them. There are former Opus Dei male numeraries who do not have fond memories of Carmen's stay at Diego de Leon in the sense that they were all in some degree obliged to court her as the Father's sister.

I saw Santiago a couple of times in Villa Sacchetti at lunch, because it must have been the Father's birthday or some festivity, but I do remember him from our brief conversations as a very different personality from Monsignor Escriva in the sense that he seemed much more straightforward to me.

Personally, I always felt sorry for Carmen and Santiago because it seemed to me that they lived in a fish bowl. They didn't belong to Opus Dei and yet their lives depended on the Work. On the one hand, Monsignor Escriva made a show of being distant toward his siblings. On the other, on the grounds that they gave him all they owned to start Opus Dei -- something of which I have never seen proof and which was never explained in detail to us -- he gave them the royal treatment. Monsignor Escriva provided them with a splendid house under the pretext that when they left Rome or died the house would be turned over to the Work. He established the tradition that on Carmen's and Santiago's saints days, birthdays, Christmas, and so forth, all the regions would send them presents, which were not mere trifles. We gave with pleasure, but they got exceptional treatment solely by dint of being the Founder's sister and brother. Thus, we were greatly surprised in Venezuela, when a note arrived saying that henceforth no more presents would be sent to Santiago. (Tia Carmen had already died.) Later we found out that Santiago was about to get married.

What is not true is what Andres Vazquez de Prada, one of the official Opus Dei biographers of Jose Maria Escriva, narrates about Tia Carmen in his book, when he describes how the Father's siblings went to live in Rome: "Santiago had been working in the legal profession for some time. Nor did Carmen change her occupation. She was available to help at times in matters that were not especially pleasant. When bank negotiations had to be undertaken, the Founder's sister got up her courage; she put on her finest apparel and went to get loans. The truth is that without much collateral, they greeted her with courtesy to be sure, with a 'Come in, countess.' And she overcame the obstacles." [11] If Tia Carmen were alive, she would say to Andres Vazquez de Prada with all the frankness that characterized her, that he was inventing a fairy tale, and would laugh in his face. That description is false, first, because neither Carmen nor Santiago were involved in financial affairs of the Work. Second, because Carmen did not speak Italian nor did she know any banker. Third, because although I truly loved her, I cannot say she "looked like a countess."

What Carmen did do was to embroider blouses for some of us. She embroidered very well and she enjoyed it. Like any woman her age, she also liked to chat and not be left alone. She very much liked plants and had a green thumb. I would joke with her saying that she could get a flower from a dry stick, because sometimes walking along the street, she would cut a twig that protruded from a grill, plant it in her house, and get flourishing growth.

More than once some of us would go with Tia Carmen to have an iced coffee. She loved to invite us or accede to our request that she invite us to a coffee shop.

She didn't like changes. She hated to see new faces.

In 1956, when I told her that the Father had said I was going to Venezuela, she came to lunch, and gripping my arm, said to me in a low voice: "But where is my brother's head? Now that you manage everything that has to do with the press and all is going so well, he sends you to Venezuela. He's crazy!" "Don't say that, Tia Carmen," I pleaded. "It's hard for me to go, but the Father has his reasons."

She would shake her head without being convinced.

When a numerary from the Women's Branch central advisory would leave for another country, it was the custom to have her picture taken to be left at the house.

Since I disliked going to the photographer, I asked Tia Carmen to accompany me. She agreed. As we talked along by the Tritone she asked me what I wanted her to give me as a souvenir. "Two things," I said. "First the rosary you use every day, second, that you have a picture taken too, and give it to me."

She looked at me with a very peculiar smile and said: "All right. But it will have to be taken now, just the way I am, because I'm not coming another day."

At the house, I had been given the address of a photographer in that very street, but when I arrived it seemed to me that it was not the sort of place to bring Tia Carmen, so I decided on the spot to go to Luxardo nearby, a very good photographer, who took good pictures of both of us. One of my pictures stayed in Rome, and they told me to take two copies to Venezuela. Oddly, these pictures of Tia Carmen are those that remained officially in Opus Dei for posterity, since she died the following year, on June 20,1957, and I am speaking of an episode at the end of September 1956.

She forgot to give me the rosary, but assured me that she would send it before I left Rome. She did. It was a very pretty rosary with silver filigree. For the sake of clarification, I should mention that the only gifts a member of Opus Dei can keep forever, for which no superior can ever ask, are those given by the Father or by Tia Carmen. However, Mercedes Morado, in a fit of rage, took it from me in May 1966, and never returned it.

I was deeply affected by Tia Carmen's death. We knew she was seriously ill, because they informed all the regions that she had cancer. When I returned to Rome in October 1965, I went to visit her grave, which, by the way, could not be in a more inconvenient spot. I questioned Lourdes Toranzo, who had been with her in her last illness. Lourdes told me that Tia Carmen said again and again that she wanted to die in Spain, but that Monsignor Escriva would not permit it, and -- Lourdes went on -- they kept telling her she would stay in Rome and that she should offer it up for the Father and for the Work. Finally after much insistence, she agreed.

"It was horrible," Lourdes told me, "because she did not want to stay and it was terribly difficult to convince her."

The scenes that Lourdes Toranzo described in Rome with such naturalness remained etched in my mind. It made me wonder why Monsignor Escriva had been so stubborn. Why did he want to rule even over the life of his family and even refuse the wishes of a dying person. I could. never understand that cruelty and over the years I still do not understand. Does this not contradict what Vazquez de Prada assures us that Monsignor repeated [12] and that I too heard him say insistently: "I am a friend of freedom because it is a gift of God, because it is a right of the human person ... ?" Carmen did not deserve to be kept from dying where she wished.

Women's Branch Central Government

The Opus Dei Women's Branch central government is called the Asesoria, a term translated into English as advisory, and its members advisors. This central government was initially headquartered in an apartment at 20, Juan Bravo Street in Madrid.

In 1953 Monsignor Escriva was deeply alarmed because he sensed that the central secretary, Rosario de Orbegozo, was deforming the spirit of Opus Dei, and that the young Opus Dei numerary women who composed the central government, under her sway, were acquiring a deformed spirit, especially in regard to the unity of Opus Dei. This danger he saw not only in the central government where the assessors dealt with the ecclesiastical assistants for the Women's Branch, the general secretary, and the central priest secretary, but also in the regional Spanish government, whose directress at that time was Maria Teresa Arnau.

It is important to keep in mind that Monsignor Escriva's understanding of unity was monolithic. No divergence from his opinion was allowed. Dialogue does not exist in Opus Dei. You do things because they are done "just so." "Just so" means that everything is carried out according to rescripts, notes, and instructions sent by the Father. No one with "good spirit" dares to deviate a fraction of an inch when the Father gives suggestions. The problem is not exactly fear of disobedience, but a lack of unity. Everything is always based on the claim that "God wants things thus." This monolithic spirit was so imbued in every member that not to live in the Work conforming to the manner indicated by the Father would have been a serious breach against unity.

To strengthen this unity, therefore, Monsignor Escriva decided that some members of the women's government, including Marisa Sanchez de Movellan, Maria Teresa Arnau, Lourdes Toranzo, and Pilar Salcedo, come to Rome as simple numeraries. As those in positions of authorities were transferred, the vacant positions were filled with others whom the Father carefully selected.

Every time one of these numeraries arrived, she had a private conversation with Encarnita Ortega by order of Monsignor Escriva. The session lasted for hours and sometimes for days. We would have had to be deaf and blind to not hear the newly arrived person sob and then see her with red eyes. Frequently, she was requested to write down the matters where she did not measure up to the unity of the Work.

Although we did not know the topic of these conversations, months later, we found out, because Encarnita herself commented on them to those of us who formed the central advisory, explaining that "it was providential" that those numeraries had come to Rome and that the scoldings were necessary "to cut off the evil at the root." By evil, of course, is understood "lack of unity."

We must have repressed any questions we had about this procedure, reassuring ourselves that it was necessary to preserve unity. Today I am forced to recognize that it has an alarming resemblance to Stalin's tactics when he required party members to confess errors of "wrong interpretations" of Communist dogma. Making those persons feel guilty created a kind of dependence on the source of truth -- in our case, Encarnita and Monsignor Escriva.

One could fill books on the topic of Opus Dei unity. In Opus Dei the theme of unity is relevant under any heading. It is discussed so frequently because it is considered the treasure of the Work. The chapter entitled "To Love Unity" in the Opus Dei book Cuadernos [13] hammers away insistently in every paragraph. "We must love the Work with passion. One of the clearest indications of this affection is to love its unity, which is its very life. Because where there is no unity, there is decomposition and death." You must "care for, watch over the unity of the Work, and be ready to defend it from any attack, if that should occur." One could never criticize, much less contradict, Monsignor Escriva, because that would have meant lack of unity. The same doctrine is applied to the counselors in the countries where Opus Dei operates. The regional directress, in principle, ought to accept the approach expressed by any of the ecclesiastical assistants, either counselor or regional priest secretary, lest she be on the brink of a fault against unity.

Clearly, Encarnita was the woman numerary "with the best spirit" in the Work and, further, the one who "enjoyed the Father's complete confidence." There was a halo of sainthood around Monsignor Escriva. All his old articles of clothing from handkerchiefs to underwear were kept, and it was "an enormous piece of luck" for one of us to get anything that the Founder had used. For example, I still have a pair of very unusual desk scissors that he used until one of the points broke. Curiously, out of habit, I had them in my study until one day, a Dominican friend, Friar Jose Ramon Lopez de la Osa, who was spending some time in Santa Barbara, criticized those scissors. I said to him reproachfully: "Don't insult the scissors that used to belong to Monsignor Escriva." No more than three days had elapsed when he appeared at my house and deposited genuine paper scissors on my desk saying, "You can throw out the 'blessed' [he used a different word] scissors of the Founder."

Toward the end of the summer of 1953, Monsignor Escriva called all the numerary women including the auxiliaries to the kitchen of Villa Sacchetti. Don Alvaro del Portillo was with him. When he was assured that absolutely everyone who lived in the house was there, he said he had a very important announcement to make. It was so silent you could have heard a needle drop.

Monsignor Escriva informed us that he had been planning for a long time to have the Women's Branch central government "close by" (cerquica) to be able to govern in a coordinated fashion. Accordingly, in agreement with Don Alvaro, they had decided that from that day on the Women's Branch central advisory would be established in Rome. He was going to tell us who the new superiors were. The list was as follows:

Directress of Central Government -- Encarnita Ortega
Secretary of the Central Government -- Marisa Sanchez de Movellan
Vice Secretary of St. Michael -- Maria del Carmen Tapia
Vice Secretary of St. Gabriel -- Maria Jose Monterde
Vice Secretary of St. Raphael -- Lourdes Toranzo
Prefect of Studies -- Pilar Salcedo
Prefect of Servants -- Gabriela Duelaud
Delegate for Spain -- Maria Luisa Moreno de Vega
Delegate for Italy -- Maria del Carmen Tapia
Procurator -- Catherine Bardinet

The surprise was indescribable. None of us expected this. He said to me personally:

"We are giving you two jobs so that you can carry the weight better like a good little donkey."

He also announced that as Encarnita would now be the central directress, Begona Mujica, a numerary from Bilbao who had been in the central government in Spain and had arrived a few months earlier at the Villa Sacchetti administration, would now direct that administration. The directress of the region of Spain would be Crucita Taberner.

This central advisory, together with Monsignor Escriva, the Father, Father Antonio Perez-Tenessa as the priest secretary general, Don Alvaro del Portillo as procurator general, Father Jose Maria Hernandez-Garnica as priest central secretary, formed the worldwide central government for the Opus Dei Women's Branch.

Both Monsignor Escriva (who also belonged to the general council or Men's Branch central government) and the other priests who were part of the central advisory all had a full vote and some of them a veto. The only one of them who resided in Rome, besides Monsignor Escriva, was Alvaro del Portillo. The others continued in Spain where the general council for the Opus Dei Men's Branch was still located.

According to Opus Dei's Constitutions, responsibilities of these posts are as follows: the central advisory directress under the guidance of the president general and the central priest secretary devotes her efforts to the overall leadership of the Women's Branch.

The secretary of the central advisory distributes tasks among the vice secretaries and other government members and supervises the faithful fulfillment of their obligations. She replaces the central secretary (or directress) in case of absence or incapacity, and prepares the official minutes of the central advisory meetings.

The vice secretary of St. Michael has responsibility for the formation of all Opus Dei female numeraries and associates in any country where there are members of the Work as well as to further any activity related to these members.

The vice secretary of St. Gabriel has responsibility for everything that concerns supernumeraries and cooperators worldwide, both their formation and activities.

The vice secretary of St. Raphael has as her charge the apostolate and proselytism of young people in all Opus Dei houses worldwide as well as to further any kind of activity that leads to an increase in vocations or work with youth.

The prefect of studies has charge of all those matters that refer to education, whether spiritual or intellectual, of ordinary numerary women.

The prefect of servants has charge of the religious and professional formation of servant numeraries.

The delegates' mission is to study problems of their respective regions. They represent the country within the central advisory and in the regional governments they rank immediately after the regional directress and have a vote and veto power in the respective women's regional advisory.

Every five years, the central procurator must inspect the account books of every region herself or by representative, in order to correct any defects and faithfully implement norms set out by the institute's general administration. Each quarter she will receive from the regional procurators statements of accounts, which must be submitted to the scrutiny of the central directress and the advisory. The term of these positions is five years.

To facilitate understanding of the government of Opus Dei, I include a diagram on the following page.


During all the years in which I was part of the Opus Dei government, it was officially collegial but in practice acted at the pleasure of the Founder. To put it more politely, the government was a "directed democracy." Let me give an example: Monsignor Escriva decided that it was necessary to give major impetus to the region of Colombia and that it would be good to send one of the numeraries then on the central advisory. Summoning Encarnita and myself, he asked us how we felt about assigning Pilar Salcedo to Colombia as regional directress to replace Josefina de Miguel, who had begun the foundation of Opus Dei women in that country. Although Pilar Salcedo then held the position of prefect of studies on the central advisory, we immediately answered that it seemed a very good idea to us.

On the spot Monsignor Escriva had us call Pilar to the Villa dining room. When Pilar appeared, the Father spoke to her very affectionately, saying that he wanted her to take on the important task of regional directress for Colombia, but that it was up to her to decide. He overwhelmed her with all kinds of flattery: "You know, daughter, what confidence I have in you," "I know you will do good work there, because you have spent time close to me and know how deeply the Father loves his daughters." Pilar turned red at the news, but was deeply moved by "the confidence the Father was placing in her." Naturally, she agreed to go to Colombia. Monsignor Escriva immediately called a meeting of the central advisory for that afternoon "to tell the others." When the whole central government gathered with Monsignor Escriva and Don Alvaro del Portillo in the Villa Vecchia dining room, the Father said that he had called us together to let us know that Pilar Salcedo would leave for Colombia in a few days. Praising that country, Monsignor Escriva pronounced a sentence that became famous within Opus Dei over the years: "Colombia, my daughter, is the country of emeralds. But the best emeralds are my daughters, if they are faithful to me" (si me son fieles). It is worth stressing that when Monsignor Escriva spoke about fidelity, he frequently used sentences such as "If you are faithful to me," "Be faithful to me." That is to say, I never heard him say, "Be faithful to the church." He always seemed to be more concerned with fidelity to himself than what was due God.

Returning to the story of Pilar Salcedo's departure for Colombia, Monsignor Escriva added jokingly that he wanted an emerald "to use as a paperweight," and he suggested how large a stone he would like by a gesture of his hand. If my memory serves me, I believe I heard that years later they sent him the desired gem from Colombia.

Obviously, the government was not authentically collegial. In a collegial system, Monsignor Escriva would have proposed that a numerary from the central government be sent to another country, giving an opportunity for everyone to ponder the pros and cons. Since Opus Dei claims that its members have the freedom to accept or refuse to go to a country which is not their own, he would have given the interested party at least a week to reflect on the proposed new assignment. A subsequent full meeting of the advisory ought to have had at least a consultative vote to express their judgment. But that is not how things were done in this case, nor when the Father sent Maria Jose Monterde as directress to Mexico, Gabriela Duclaud as directress to the United States, Lourdes Toranzo as directress to Italy, or myself as directress to Venezuela.

Government at the Father's pleasure is based on number 328 of Opus Dei's Constitutions. "The Father has power over all the regions, centers, and each member and possession of the institute, which power is to be exercised according to the Constitutions." [14] Before meetings we were alerted to those matters in which Monsignor Escriva had a preference. There was voting, of course, but mostly on the issue of the permanent incorporation of a member, whether numerary or auxiliary; votes were taken on very few other issues. While a member of the central advisory, I never witnessed a single case of disagreement with the Father; I wonder what would have happened if someone had said "no" to one of his suggestions. The truth is that we spontaneously repressed possible questions, because we believed that raising an objection would have been a fault against unity.

Since the advisors' house was not completed, the government meetings took place in the Villa Vecchia dining room. This dining room was familiarly called "the Father's dining room." It was never remodeled and retained the style of the original villa. It had two large windows that opened onto the garden, called Garden of the Villa Vecchia, and two doors, one of black wood which opened on to the villa vestibule, and the other, upholstered to muffle sounds, led to the administration pantry. In the center was a refectory table which could seat fourteen or fifteen persons, two armchairs and a number of high-backed chairs similarly upholstered in "cardinal" red velvet.

There were no drapes or curtains on the Villa Vecchia windows, because the windows were mostly of leaded glass. The small pieces of glass cast pretty refractions into the rooms.

Until the Montagnola, as the central assessors' house was called, was finished, the new assessors continued to live in rooms in Villa Sacchetti. Our cleaning duties were unaltered. The only novelty is that we spent less time in the ironing room and instead worked on what Maria Luisa Moreno de Vega and I previously had done and which was now divided among all of us as a function of government, since we were all major superiors.

For many months we had two rooms in Villa Sacchetti for our work as assessors. One was the same secretarial room that Maria Luisa Moreno de Vega and I had used and that Encarnita Ortega and Marisa Sanchez de Movellan now used. The other was opposite the secretarial room and had been the bedroom of a numerary. There were two tables in the room where most of us worked. One was of normal height and the other very low. The only other furnishing was some chairs. It was uncomfortable to work at the tables because we all had to share them, but we made no mention of our discomfort.

Every morning, once Encarnita and Marisa had read the mail from abroad, they gave each of us the letters from the country that corresponded with her, plus a note to guide us in our response. Included, naturally, were the letters directed personally to the Father.

Encarnita frequently entered our room when she needed to comment on something, ask our opinion, or give us instructions.

Monsignor Escriva frequently came to this work room with Don Alvaro and would talk to us about the spirit of Opus Dei. His greatest concern was to impart the spirit of unity as an indispensable foundation for "good spirit." This refrain may fatigue the reader, but it was the nucleus of Monsignor Escriva's doctrine regarding the internal functioning of Opus Dei. He spoke about apostolate in very general terms: "We have to carry our salt and our light to all souls." He mentioned Jesus Christ, but as preamble to speaking about Opus Dei. On the few occasions he spoke about the church, he mentioned the work Alvaro del Portillo or Salvador Canals did for the church, but he frequently conveyed the impression of the Vatican's lack of comprehension of Opus Dei. If he spoke of the Society of Jesus for any reason, he always referred to the Jesuits as "the usual ones" (los de siempre). When Monsignor Escriva was photographed with the Jesuit General Father Arrupe, the picture appeared in the Madrid daily ABC with the cupola of St. Peters in the background. Monsignor Escriva was not openly pleased, except that it showed that the Jesuits had to take Opus Dei seriously. Those were not his words, but the context made it plain. [15]

On one of those visits to the office, he remarked: "I prefer a thousand times that one of my daughters should die without receiving the sacraments, rather than that they should be administered to her by a Jesuit."

Frequently he talked to us about cleaning and especially about cleaning his room. He insisted that his room was simply a kind of corridor, which was true in a way. His office, however, was not simply a corridor, nor was the room where he ordered that special glass cases be constructed to keep all the donkeys and at a later stage ducks that men and women numeraries from all over the world sent him as presents. The collection was picturesque and varied. It was based on the story that one day he prayed to the Lord: "I am a poor mangy donkey" and heard an answer from heaven saying, "A donkey was my throne in Jerusalem." Hence, on occasion when he gave someone his photograph, he would inscribe "Ut iumentum" (Like a donkey). During the time that Alvaro del Portillo was Opus Dei prelate he continued the practice. There is no word yet on what the current prelate, Javier Echevarria, will do. Ducks were collected on the basis of Escriva's saying that as ducks plunge their ducklings into the water to make them learn how to swim, he sent his daughters and sons to do things they had never done before.

With one expression or another, he implied very clearly that the church was indispensable, but inefficacious. He was absolutely convinced that Opus Dei was above the church, in sanctity, in doctrinal preparation, and in everything. When he spoke to us about the priests of Opus Dei, he would tell us they were "his crown."

During these visits, he would leave us with the essential points of Opus Dei doctrine and repeated to us many times: "The women who come after you will envy your having known me."

Opus Dei regulations clearly establish that women do not maintain friendship with any priest. However, when it was useful for public relations, he would make exceptions. For example, with relative frequency he used to send Maria Jose Monterde, who was from Zaragoza, to visit Monsignor Pedro Altabella, also from Zaragoza, who lived in Rome and had a position in the Vatican. Not only did she go to see him, but each month she took a copy of the Women's Branch internal publication called Noticias. The strange thing was that these inconsistencies seemed natural to us because they came from the Father and nobody dared to contradict him.

Monsignor Escriva's many and often conflicting demands made it difficult to live in his house. A more serious inconsistency had to do with his attitude toward the servant numeraries. On the one hand, he required that we treat "our little sisters, the servants" with special care and to never leave them alone. Yet, on the other hand, he never gave them more than a few minutes of his time when visiting the ironing room, and always in the form of teaching doctrine. Whereas he loved to have get-togethers with the students of the Roman College of the Holy Cross, I never remember Monsignor Escriva coming on a regular basis to have get-togethers with the servants, quite possibly because he was bored and didn't know how to speak with them. So, I am astonished when Opus Dei biographers praise Monsignor Escriva's dealings with people of modest station in life, stressing his occasional visits to the favelas on his trips to Latin American countries.

Monsignor Escriva established a protocol on how to receive visits to the house in Rome, how meals should be served and so forth. The goal was to impress the guests and encourage their future activity in Opus Dei in their country. On the occasion of the visit by a bishop, the Father told Encarnita and me that we should prepare a good meal because the bishop enjoyed eating very much. The Father's exact phrase was, "Daughters, give him enough to eat until he can touch the food with his fingers," and saying this he opened his mouth, inserting his fingers.

Unquestionably, Monsignor Escriva wanted Opus Dei to be viewed as universal, but all its vocations were Spaniards except in Mexico and a little group in Ireland, without counting one Frenchwoman who was in Rome, and one Japanese woman who spent a short time in Villa Sacchetti, but who abandoned Opus Dei after having lived in an Opus Dei administration in Spain. To demonstrate this universality to bishops who visited the house, the administration would be notified that no Spaniard should be in the Gallery of the Madonna through which the visitor was to pass with Monsignor Escriva. They would station the few available non-Spanish women in strategic places, so that when the Father came by with that dignitary, Monsignor Escriva would introduce them saying, "This daughter is French. Catherine, my daughter, may God bless you." Or, "this other daughter is Mexican. Gabriela, God bless you," and so forth.

Monsignor Escriva wanted a Mexican, Gabriela Duclos, and a Frenchwoman, Catherine Bardinet, on the central advisory, simply to give the group a bit of color, but never assigned them any responsible work nor did he consult them. He had innate suspicion of anything that was not Spanish, and therefore surrounded himself with Spaniards in key posts. That was obvious. Even nowadays the majority of Opus Dei key government positions are held by Spaniards.

Encarnita had to make a trip to visit the European countries where the Work existed. Of course, she took the Mexican Gabriela Duclos to demonstrate in Europe and especially in Spain the Work's universality, despite the extremely expensive visa fee that Mexicans then had to pay to visit Spain. Besides, Gabriela was very docile toward her and was not going to cause any difficulties on the trip.

The Opus Dei secretary general, Antonio Perez-Tenessa, had told Escriva that the Spanish region would meet the payments due for the construction in Rome, and he never failed for many years. However, at some point during 1954-56, the financial problem of the Villa Tevere construction was resolved thanks to the contractor Castelli, a friend of Don Alvaro. In some way that was never explained to us, Castelli arranged things so that Don Alvaro did not always have to be preoccupied with the construction. In fact, thanks to this gentleman the construction was brought to completion. Naturally, Opus Dei reciprocated to this person who had behaved so well toward Don Alvaro. We only found out about this when a son of the Castelli family made his first communion. Don Alvaro celebrated the Mass in the Opus Dei central house. Monsignor Escriva requested that the women prepare a sumptuous breakfast in the new dining room at the Roman College of the Holy Cross. The maids appeared in impeccable black uniforms with white gloves. The breakfast was served on the best silver. We supervised every minute detail. "That man deserves everything," the Father insisted, referring to Castelli the contractor.

These stories show that my stay in Rome coincided with the foundational period of Opus Dei. I experienced the entire government reorganization, was present as the buildings grew day by day, and heard the Father instruct us as the first female numeraries under his wing. I witnessed unique events in the life of Opus Dei: the arrival at the Rome headquarters of the first numeraries and numerary servants from Mexico, the United States, Ireland, Argentina, Uruguay, and so forth; the Opus Dei silver jubilee; the foundation of the Roman College of Santa Maria; the establishment of the printing press; and almost daily contact with the Founder, Monsignor Escriva.

Our government activity, consequently, was not just to legislate but to clear the ground for future numeraries.

Monsignor Escriva used to call us many Sunday mornings, when there were no workers, to visit the construction site of the Retreat House with him and Don Alvaro. The Retreat House was to be the provisional site of the Roman College of the Holy Cross. I recall that on a few Sundays we went with Monsignor Escriva alone. Since we were generally cleaning at that time and we wore the required white house coats, he told us to take them off out of discretion, so as not to attract the attention of neighbors who might see us.

We were able to get to know the new buildings that later on we would have to clean.

There are many stories from our visits to the construction site. I will limit myself to a few. One of them concerned the water. Apparently, the neighbors registered formal complaints to municipal authorities, because our house with so many residents had a water consumption superior to that allotted per dwelling in the neighborhood.

I do not know how they solved the problem, but years later I found out that the Roman College of the Holy Cross or more exactly the Retreat House, where the students of the Roman College of the Holy Cross lived, had its own unregistered well.

On another occasion and in relation to the same construction, Monsignor Escriva told us in confidence that Opus Dei was about to recover the down payment for Villa Tevere. The Father told us that along with the only money he had, the former owners were given "a handful of coins" that came from his mother, with the request that the coins be kept. I subsequently heard from a very reliable source that: "One day in the Roman College of the Holy Cross, Monsignor Escriva brought out a number of ten-dollar gold pieces called eagles, which have the approximate size of dimes. Naturally, they are now worth much more than ten dollars. They were inside a cloth bag, and there is no doubt about their existence, because we touched them under the watchful eye of one of the priests who was with Monsignor Escriva. Monsignor Escriva told us that there were ten thousand dollars, that is, a thousand eagles (although he did not mention the name of the coin). He explained that they had served as a kind of security for the loan for the purchase of the villa and the land. He also said they were his mother's dowry. They had managed to pay the debt and had recovered the coins."

The story does not square with Monsignor Escriva's tale of how his family had given to Opus Dei their entire fortune, nor how those golden coins were kept throughout the Spanish Civil War.

On other occasions Monsignor Escriva used our visits to tell us about the Work. More than once he remarked about women's lack of sincerity and complained about how complicated they are: "You are like onions. However many layers they take away from you, there is always another one." Referring to the foundation of the Women's Branch, he used to tell us that he had not wanted women in Opus Dei and that in some very early Opus Dei document he had written: "a difference between Opus Dei and other forms of life of dedication is that it will not have women." He would add to this: "I didn't want you. I didn't want women in the Work. You can truly say it was from God." He would continue: "I began the Mass without knowing anything, and I ended by knowing everything."

Truly the zenith of my fanaticism in Opus Dei was during my stay in Rome and as a member of the central government of the Women's Branch.

On one hand, I undertook my duties with a deep sense of responsibility. On the other, I was very drastic in my first years in the government and very harsh in my judgments, especially toward the numeraries and superiors of the region of Italy.
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Part 4 of 4

Region of Italy

At this point, I must make a public mea culpa for my harshness toward the superiors of the Italian regional advisory, especially Pilarin Navarro Rubio, who was then regional directress. I appeared on the scene with the sword of unity unsheathed and the letter of "good spirit" and "love of the Father" on my tongue.

In my fanaticism, I concluded that bad spirit prevailed, because in the get-togethers they spoke of public events like elections or about the families of numeraries instead of the Father. I was also scandalized because Pilarin Navarro argued that the maids, as they existed in Opus Dei, should be replaced by a responsible and well-remunerated staff. I passed on this information to the central advisory, which naturally scolded the superiors of the region. Pilarin Navarro was regional directress and Maria Teresa Arnau secretary of the regional advisors. The latter was one of those whom Monsignor Escriva did not want to have close to him. Why? Most probably, because she was not an attractive woman, although intelligent and dedicated. After several years in Italy as a regional advisor, she was ordered without the slightest explanation to return to Spain. Instructions were given to the Opus Dei superiors to send her to her family home. Her parents were dead, and her family was undergoing a period of financial hardship. The superiors in Spain were willing to accept her request to return to houses of the Work there, but Monsignor Escriva said this was impossible. With typical inconsistency, however, when he met her on one of his trips to Spain, he acted affectionately toward her.

The two ecclesiastical assistants for the region of Italy were Father Salvador Moret as counselor and Father Salvador Canals as priest secretary.

The region of Italy was very difficult and very hard. There was no money and no solidly established external apostolate. There was a house in Milan and one in Naples. I visited the women numeraries in Naples. The directress was Victoria Lopez Amo, whose goodness I remember well. In Rome there was only the apartment on Marcello Prestinari street, where the regional advisory lived. The Women's Branch was also in charge of the administration of the regional commission and Villa delle Rose in Castelgandolfo.

Many married women frequented Marcello Prestinari, however, and the apostolate with them went well. The work of St. Raphael was very difficult. It had produced one vocation, Gabriella Filippone, who belonged to a prominent Abruzzi family, although they lived in Rome. The family was also wealthy. Encarnita Ortega was delighted with Gabriella, so much so that she did not rest until she brought her to the central house; she certainly was a lovely person.

We discussed the possibility of a students' residence, which later became the very successful Villa delle Palme, but at the time the apostolic horizon was very cloudy. There were also two German vocations, one of them Christa, who left Opus Dei three years later, and the other was Marga, who had organized a kind of day-care center. This required special permission from the Father, because women numeraries could not hold a child, let alone hug or kiss one, because such acts stir maternal feelings which might undermine our commitment to chastity. Notwithstanding, Opus Dei publishes bulletins on the life of Monsignor Escriva, where he is shown holding children and even kissing them.

At the height of my fanaticism, whatever the Father did seemed perfect to me. What Encarnita did made less sense to me.

Personal relations among the advisors were good. What was clear is that Encarnita was completely in charge. She and Marisa presented us with government matters already half digested. That is, they made us see that what they suggested was better than what we thought, so we had very little independence. Encarnita had her fixations, and one of them was Pilarin Nararro. She lost no opportunity to censure Pilarin's lack of "love for the Father," sometimes subtly and at other times directly. She also stressed that Monsignor Escriva had no confidence in Pilarin.

Encarnita Ortega's "reign" in Rome ended around 1965 as a consequence of the scandal provoked by her brother Gregorio. Gregorio Ortega arrived in Venezuela October 16, 1965, and was deported the following November 12, after having been detained in the suite which he occupied in the Hotel Tamanaco in Caracas. Unquestionably, Monsignor Escriva was not interested in keeping the sister of the numerary who had caused the Work so many problems. Many years later, Opus Dei sent him to Argentina as a supernumerary; he married there and died a few years ago.

Encarnita was told to go to Spain to speak to her brother. Once there, they made her stay in Barcelona for several years. Then, they sent her to houses of less importance, Oviedo and Valladolid, where she recently died of cancer.

The Father's trips date from this period. We did not know his whereabouts, but assumed that he might be away for a month. During the summer he vacationed in the north of Italy or sometimes in Switzerland. Many times, two numeraries and two servants were taken to attend the house where he was resting. Meanwhile, the male numeraries were at Terracina, the Opus Dei house in Saito di Fondi, and the women numeraries used the "vacations" to do special cleaning, especially in Monsignor Escriva's room.

The Roman College of Santa Maria

The year 1953 was important in Opus Dei history: it marked the establishment of the women's central government in Rome; it also was Opus Dei's silver jubilee. On September 8, 1953, Monsignor Escriva wrote a letter from Rome to all members on the occasion of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the foundation of Opus Dei. He celebrated in Molinoviejo.

Two events changed the established routine of the central advisory: the Roman College of Santa Maria was created by Monsignor Escriva on December 12, 1953; and the Women's Branch took over the press in Rome.

Some of the first vocations from almost all countries came to the Roman College of Santa Maria (Collegium Romanum Sanctae Mariae). Teddy Burke from Ireland and Pat Lind from the United States caused great sensation, because Teddy was the first Irish and Pat the first North American numerary. Pat arrived with Theresa Wilson, who was also assigned to the Roman College.

In 1954 the central advisory's house was finished and turned over to us, and so we went to live there and work in the advisory offices. I designed the archives for almost all the offices; work was pleasant, we had splendid light, and there is no doubt that the physical comfort brought a more relaxed atmosphere.

The so-called visitors' parlor and the oratory, which was not yet finished, were on the first floor. The soggiorno (living room) and a block of rooms for the assessors were on the second floor. On the third floor was the central directress's suite as well as several more rooms for advisors. The central advisory offices were on the fourth floor. All the rooms were well equipped with closets and showers in addition to a sink; the central directress's suite had a bedroom, full bathroom, and a rather large sitting room. There was an intercom in the central directress's room and the intercom was in the hall on the other floors.

Classes for the Roman College of Santa Maria were given in La Montagnola soggiorno. A priest came after lunch to give classes in dogmatics and moral theology. There were no books, but we could take notes. It was recommended that advisors who had the time should attend classes. Then, there were classes on the spirit of the Work, its Catechism, and on administration, which the advisors taught by turns, but the greatest burden was carried by Pilar Salcedo and Lourdes Toranzo.

As the number of students in the Roman College of Santa Maria increased, it became necessary to construct the buildings in Castelgandolfo at Villa delle Rose.

Monsignor Escriva used to come to the Montagnola to speak to the students at the Roman College. At one of these encounters in the Montagnola living room he addressed Pat Lind, the first American female numerary, who could speak Spanish fairly well, and said: "Pat, I have just spoken to your cousin Dick."

Here Monsignor Escriva explained that Dick was Pat's cousin, who had grown up with her like a brother, and who was the first male numerary from the United States and who, God willing, would be a priest. He went on to say: "He [Dick] says that he has never read that St. Thomas says that blacks have souls. What do you think?"

Pat, with a smile of amusement, answered: "If my cousin says so ... "

Monsignor Escriva took this answer with great guffaws, while he repeated: "How amusing! How amusing!"

The truth is that in spite of being such a fanatic, I mentioned this in my confidence as a lack of charity and universality. I was rather indignant at his comments. Naturally, they told me the fault was Pat's, not the Father's.

The students at the Roman College of Santa Maria worked part time on house cleaning, as their class schedule permitted. They had their get-together with the central advisory. The advisors, from the time the Roman College of Santa Maria began to function, ceased to have get-togethers with the administration of the house and the servants.

The Press I: Beginnings

The press, like the Roman College of Santa Maria, was a factor that greatly contributed to change the advisors' work.

Toward the end of 1953 Monsignor Escriva informed us that just as "our brothers" published an internal magazine called Cronica, we had to prepare an internal magazine for the Women's Branch. He suggested as a title Noticias. Apparently this was the name of a bulletin that the first Opus Dei members put together to keep members abreast of developments.

Monsignor Escriva spoke to us often and with great emphasis about work in journalism. He said "We have to cover the world with printed paper." He explained that Opus Dei journalists (men and women) could avoid erroneous information about Opus Dei. He also spoke to us about schools of journalism all over the world and that, in time, there would be one at the University of Navarra where "our people" (los nuestros), Opus Dei women and men, could study journalism. He then told us that a miniature press already existed in Rome, fun by Opus Dei male numeraries, and that we would have to take it over very soon. Not only would internal magazines be printed there but all kinds of documents and informative material, which "there was no reason to give to outsiders." Here he explained that the men were also planning another magazine that could be given to many people who did not belong to the Work, called Obras (Works). He told us that it was practically ready.

As a result of all this, he instructed us to write to the regions requesting contributions for our magazine so we could begin to prepare the first issue of Noticias.

He also said the male numeraries would turn over to us a Vary-Typer so that we could learn to use it. When Monsignor Escriva asked who could assume responsibility for finding a machine for our press, almost in unison everyone answered that I could.

The next day I went out with Gabriella Filippone to look for "a machine for the press."

Exactly what sort of machine? Ah! We didn't know and nobody told us. We began to look for good mimeograph machines, but all of them seemed very expensive to me. We made a summary of those that seemed best, and that night when the Father called me after his supper, I went up with Encarnita to the Villa dining room. Monsignor Escriva began to ask about the machines we had seen. All my life I will remember that I gave him the most stupid answer conceivable. To his question: "Did you see anything useful that you liked?"

I answered: "Yes Father, I saw a green mimeograph machine."

I spoke with utter assurance.

Monsignor Escriva's expression was ineffable. When he was able to speak, he shouted at me: "Green! Green! Well buy it, if it serves."

I bought it. The green machine arrived at the advisors' offices, still in Villa Sacchetti. When we began to use it, for weeks our voices could be heard in the corridors as we gazed at the machine: "Bad, bad, bad, bad, good!!"

When Monsignor Escriva arrived and contemplated "our work of art," he asked: "How many copies does it make per minute?"

We all looked at each other in defeat, and I dared to say: "Father, I don't think this is what you want," showing him the big pile of bad copies and the little pile of good ones.

Monsignor Escriva looked at Don Alvaro and said to us: "We are going to put a cassock on one of your brothers so he can teach you how the press works."

Directing himself to me, he instructed me, with a certain understandable annoyance, to have the green machine sent back the next day, and that within a very few days, they would turn over to us all the machinery in the Pensionato so that we could run the press by ourselves.

The Father told me specifically that I would be in charge of these machines and that I should look for other numeraries to help me. He also left us an issue of Cronica to read.

We began to ask ourselves what numeraries would work on the press. None of the advisors wanted to get involved. They preferred to edit the articles. In sum, they told me to propose numeraries from the administration who seemed best for this type of work. I thought of two who were extraordinarily meticulous, Elena Serrano, whom I knew well from Cordoba, and was very good at photographs, and the other Blanca Nieto, who had learned book binding in Spain. There was another numerary, Maria, a Catalonian from Vic, enthusiastic and good, whom Encarnita told me to incorporate into our group, which we did.

Telephone Switchboards

While we were making plans to take over the press, Don Alvaro del Portillo had told us a few days earlier that, since I spoke Italian, I would take over the telephone switchboards of the Opus Dei Procura Generalizia and the Roman College of the Holy Cross; the job was to be shared with another numerary for whom I was to search within the administration. I selected Julia Vazquez, who was on the local council of Villa Sacchetti as one of the vice directresses of the administration. Julia knew Italian fairly well, because she was in charge of house errands.

The telephone switchboards and the printing press were located in the same area, at the end of the Galleria delle Anfore, so named because its walls were decorated with authentic Roman amphoras unearthed on the Opus Dei property in Terracina. Monsignor Escriva told us that many Roman amphoras along with other Roman artifacts were discovered on the property, but that they were not going to inform the Italian government about the find. Indeed, I remember seeing many amphoras at Opus Dei headquarters, when they were brought from Terracina.

The gallery opened onto a large area, a kind of irregular great hall. Entering the area one encountered the telephone booths to the right and on the left a small room whose window was totally blocked, because it opened onto the men's house. The room contained an ugly, old sink where we could get water for the press operation and to wash our hands. The main offset press was at the center of this small room. Opus Dei men had already christened the machine "Catalina."

There was a stairway which led to a visitors' dining room next to the entrance of the men's house at Viale Bruno Buozzi, 73. This door at the end of the stairs was one of the "communication doors," subject to the internal regulations for administrations, of which I have already spoken. Shipments of paper were left in the dining room that we had to carry to the press. There were some twenty-five steps to the press room and I hurt my back carrying heavy piles of paper. The back pain periodically recurs to this day.

The windows in this large area were of translucent glass, facing on to Viale Bruno Buozzi. Since they faced the mezzanine floor of the men's house, they could only be opened to an angle of about fifteen degrees, to avoid our being seen from outside.

Don Alvaro and the Father gave me instructions on how to answer outside calls and how to make the connections to the telephones of the persons whom they called. Except certain persons specified by Monsignor Escriva or Don Alvaro, when someone asked for the Father, we were always to say that he was out of Rome.

Similarly, they gave us a number of printed sheets to record absolutely all the calls we received. The sheets were kept in a folder and given to Don Alvaro del Portillo after lunch and supper by the maid Rosalla Lopez, and to the rector of the Roman College of the Holy Cross, who was Father Jose Luis Massot at that time, also via the maid who waited on his table at supper. In other words, the rector kept absolute track of all the calls that any person in his house had received, whether or not the call had actually reached the person.

They gave me the names of all the men who lived in the Retreat House so that I could make an alphabetical list to be kept always in the telephone booths. I prepared these lists on the Vary-Typer offset machine at the press. Consequently, both Julia Vazquez and I were informed, first, of the first and last names of all the men in the Roman College of the Holy Cross, and second, of who called Don Alvaro or Monsignor Escriva. Of course, the silence of office prevented us from speaking about anything that happened in the cabinas (Spanish for booths) or in our weekly confidence. Moreover, nobody could enter the cabinas, except the persons who did their fraternal talk with Julia or with me.

Julia and I spoke Italian and we had firm orders both from Monsignor Escriva and Don Alavaro del Portillo not to answer or speak in Spanish under any circumstances. We fulfilled this order rigorously.

I began work at eight in the morning and Julia relieved me after lunch around two to two-thirty in the afternoon. Meanwhile, I performed all the press work right there. During the afternoons, Julia received the confidences of the servants in her charge.

We frequently spoke with the Father or with Don Alvaro for a variety of reasons. I remember one day Monsignor Escriva called at noon. He began to pray the Angelus with me on the phone, and at the end, when he should have said the ejaculatory prayer, "Sancta Maria, Spes Nostra, Sedes Sapientiae" -- since he was in the presence of men -- he stopped and said "Sancta Maria, Spes Nostra, Ancilla Domini." When I said "Ora pro nobis," he added laughing, "let them suffer" (que se aguanten). Obviously, this was a gesture of preferential treatment for the Women's Branch in the presence of men.

There were no Saturdays, Sundays, feast days, or extraordinary meditations during this work in the telephone booths. They functioned until after eight at night and the installations could not be left alone.

My happiest times in Rome were in the cabinas and the press. From Madrid, intelligent, with sparkling black eyes, Julia possessed an excellent sense of humor mixed with an infinite goodness and warmth. She was truly attractive, always impeccably dressed. Her fragile, slender appearance, black hair hid a very mature person. She had a kind word for everybody. You could confide in her without fear that she would report anything afterwards. She was a person of integrity.

The telephones made me concentrate on something different and were a healthy escape from the rest of the house, from the tension of not knowing whether the Father would summon you or not, from the opinions of the different advisors. It isn't that I wasn't happy in Villa Sacchetti, but there were so many people that I felt suffocated. I am not comfortable in crowds and never was. The booths were an oasis of peace. I felt happy every time I closed the door and left the noise out.

A very important milestone in my personal life occurred in 1954. Those of us who had not made our perpetual vows, called the "fidelity," petitioned the Father to waive the time that remained for the required five years and requested that he preside at the ceremony. (According to the Opus Dei Constitutions, all numeraries who are part of the central government, not only have to have made the fidelity, but also have to be inscribed members.) [17] To our great joy, Monsignor Escriva agreed to this. They notified us that he would wear full regalia of a domestic prelate for the fidelity of some servants who were going to take perpetual vows at about the same time, but would preside at our ceremony "wearing his old shoes." In effect, November 24, 1954, saint's day of Catherine Bardinet, Monsignor Escriva received our fidelity in Villa Sacchetti in the oratory of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

The ceremony of the fidelity involves perpetual vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience for one's whole life, according to the spirit of Opus Dei. After kissing the wooden cross and responding to the prayers set out in the book of rituals, the rings are blessed by the priest and given to the person. Monsignor Escriva told us that this blessing virtually duplicated the blessing of the rings in the marriage ceremony. The ring belongs to the member already. Mine was the first piece of jewelry I received at fifteen. It was a present from my aunt and uncle in Cordoba. It was a ring that I liked very much because they told me that it was the first present that my uncle gave to my aunt when they were engaged. I still have it. Once the ring is blessed, the priest gives it back to the person. The ceremony ends with Preces or official Opus Dei prayers.

At the end Monsignor Escriva said: "I do not want to end this ceremony without saying a few words" (unas palabricas). After this he added that it filled him with emotion to think we had come to Opus Dei in "this first foundational hour." He then spoke of the importance of our fidelity to Opus Dei and that we should conserve the spirit of unity, fundamental for our perseverance in the Work of God. And he blessed us.

The next step was to take the promissory oaths. Days before, Father Manuel Moreno, who was the spiritual director of the Roman College of the Holy Cross, prepared us for them. [18] These oaths are taken separately and after the ceremony of fidelity. We took the oaths in the Villa Sacchetti soggiorno. As a consequence of this perpetual commitment, the oaths involve: 1) In regard to the institute sincerely to avoid anything in deed and word which might go against the spiritual, moral, or legal unity of the institute, and to that end, exercise fraternal correction whenever necessary; 2) In regard to each and everyone of the institute's superiors a) to avoid saying anything that might diminish their reputation or detract from their authority; and similarly to repress murmuring on the part of other members; b) to exercise fraternal correction with our immediate superior. If after a prudent lapse of time, such correction has been in vain, the matter should be fully communicated to the next highest major superior or to the Father and left fully in their hands; 3) With regard to oneself always to consult with the immediate or highest major superior depending on the gravity of the case or the security or efficacy of the decision, any question -- whether professional, social or of an other kind -- even when they do not constitute direct matter of the vow of obedience, without pretending to transfer any obligation for this to one's superior.

Freedom is always diminished by these oaths under penalty of perjury. Although as a prelature, Opus Dei now claims not to have vows, but commitments or contracts with the prelature, the essence is the same: only the names are different.

Days later, Monsignor Escriva announced that all the advisors except Maria Luisa Moreno de Vega and myself had been named electors. [19] This omission did not bother but surprised me. I am certain that Encarnita had an important part in the decision, because she never fully trusted me.

The Press II: Projects

Monsignor Escriva informed us that they had already ordained Fernando Baya a deacon. Fernando Bayo a painter, now became "Don Fernando." Monsignor Escriva repeated that they had ordained him a deacon in order to let him wear the cassock so that he could come and teach us in the press. This event was an exception in Opus Dei, because there would be no deacons in the future. Monsignor Escriva further told us that an Opus Dei numerary, Remigio Abad, a student at the Roman College, "on whom we are going to put a cassock soon" (indicating that he was to be ordained a priest shortly) would come to the press to teach Blanca Nieto and two servants all about binding. We chose two numerary servants. Carmen was from the Spanish region of Galicia, and Constantina was Mexican. Both of them were extraordinarily good with their hands.

The machines arrived. They were installed when we were away. Next morning we were like children with new toys.

Monsignor Escriva came with "Don Fernando," repeated all the earlier statements about his ordination as a deacon, and naturally he told us to pay close attention and that we would soon learn.

When we were alone with Don Fernando, who is Basque, he looked at us gripping his cassock, and said: "They've just dressed me in these skirts to teach you, so come on, learn quickly. This is what I needed in life: to leave my artist's study in Madrid to a person who doesn't know how to hold a brush and wear a cassock to work in the press with women."

I laughed and said: "We are not so bad, even if we are women! For your information, I wouldn't have cared if you came without a cassock to show us how the press works."

The truth is that Fernando Bayo was like an older brother. He was kind, pleasant, good-humored, with admirable practical and pedagogical talent. We all got along very well with him, and he not only taught us to master the printing presses but to love the work and take an interest in it.

The work at the press delighted me. When we received the material from the men for Cronica and Obras, beyond basic, indispensable instructions, they left it up to our judgment how or where to edit the magazine. However, when we edited Noticias, the women's magazine, we had to adjust it to the taste of the central directress, in content, titles, fonts, page layout, and photographs. Encarnita came to the press and would give us orders. All of the instructions were inspired by a magazine to which my friend Francoise de Tailly subscribed for me, Plaisir de France. Encarnita wanted Noticias to imitate different page layouts in that magazine. This was no easy task, and Fernando Bayo got so sick of it that he told Encarnita off in front of us and said that by agreement with the Father he gave orders in the press and nobody else. When Encarnita left we said to him: "This is going to cost the rest of us dearly."

But we were mistaken. Fernando Bayo told the Father he would not continue to work, if the women at the press could not be autonomous. Monsignor Escriva paid serious attention. One day he called us and said that he already knew that Don Fernando had scolded Encarnita. But he also said that an independent local council was to be named for the press. It was made up of me as director, Blanca Nieto as subdirector, and Elena Serrano as secretary.

Although I argued with Elena in the photography laboratory, I was very fond of her because she had all the patience in the world and put up with just about anything. She knew I was fond of her, admired her, and we got along well. The three of us loved the work and put all our effort into it.

There was a sense of satisfaction in this job, but some things surprised me even at the time. For example, one day Don Alvaro came and told us that, at the Father's order, it was necessary to change the punctuation and a few words on a page in the volume of the Constitutions, approved in perpetuity by the Holy See and printed in Grottaferratta. We had to find the same type of paper, color of ink, and bind the volume in exactly the same way, so that the replacement of page and the other changes would not be noticed. I wondered whether the Holy See knew about this, but assured myself that it must. Today, I am convinced that the Holy See was totally ignorant of the fact that the Constitutions that had been approved as "holy, perpetual, and inviolable" had undergone changes. Of course, I kept no record of those changes and cannot say what they were.

Another strange practice was doing over pages of Noticias that had already been mailed to the various countries where we had members. Generally, the reason for this was that we wanted to touch up a photograph, perhaps someone in the photo. If the person's name appeared in the text, it was deleted and a few lines were reprinted. The corrected pages were distributed to the countries with a covering note from the central advisory simply saying, "Please, destroy such and such pages and replace them with the pages enclosed. Inform us when you have carried this out."

Obviously, this is the way Opus Dei erases from its archives any persona non grata, who no longer belongs to the Work. Therefore it can be said later that "there are no records of that person in its archives." Such procedures duplicate the practices of totalitarian security forces. The difference is that Opus Dei is supposed to be an institution within the church.

While I was at the press, many Opus Dei instructions ad usum nostrorum (for internal use) were printed, as were the first volumes of Construcciones (Constructions), the regulations sent from the central governments in Rome to be followed in building or remodeling Opus Dei properties. The instructions had to be followed, or one had to explain why they could not be followed.

Similarly, documents like special letters were prepared to be presented to the Pope.

The servants who worked in the bindery were delighted. For the first time in their lives, they did something other than cleaning. The truth is that the group assigned to the press was wonderful.

Since we were in ink all day up to our ears, they made blue coveralls for us, which we found very funny since they certainly were a departure from the customary white housecoat. Don Fernando painted an image of Our Lady on the wall that was a copy of a Ghirlandaio. We began to criticize it one day. He got angry and despite our insistence did not finish it. He treated us all very well and was happy, because they had told him that as soon as he passed a few remaining courses in theology, he would be ordained a priest and would leave the press forever. We joked with him, asking whom we were going to consult if he went away. He always pointed his finger at me.

During the summer of 1956 the central advisory with the approval of Monsignor Escriva organized a series of annual formation courses which were held in Villa Sacchetti. As the vice secretary of St. Michael I contributed to these courses, giving classes on the spirit of the Work that the central director assigned to me.

One of the numeraries who came from Argentina to these courses was Sabina Alandes, regional directress in that country, and my old directress in Cordoba. One day as I left the press, I met her in a gallery and she said she wanted to talk to me. I stopped to chat. With all the vigor that characterized her passionate temperament she said: "I hope to God they send you away from here. You have become a lamb in this house. You don't know what goes on in the world. You need to get some fresh air, live in the real world. You're dry. I love you very much, and I don't care a bit that you're a major superior and that you riddle me with corrections. You need to know firsthand what is going on in a country and not be satisfied with all the folderol of notes and rescripts."

I knew Sabina cared about me and kept what she said in the back of my mind. I never told anyone about it, because I knew she would be scolded for giving such advice.

Not long afterwards, one evening Monsignor Escriva called me to come up to the Villa dining room after supper. He looked tired, but he told me he was very happy with the press and added: "Carmen, we will leave you here seven more years. But we won't keep you any longer. Then we will send you out there to work."

Needless to say I went out bubbling over with happiness, and I told the story to all the women at the press. This meant the world to me, a complete Opus Dei fanatic, with extraordinary love for Monsignor Escriva, happy in my work and knowing that the Father in person had told me that I would be in Rome for seven more years.

Since there is neither good nor evil that lasts a hundred years, according to a Spanish saying, my happiness hardly lasted twenty-four hours. Next day's mail brought news from the region of Venezuela, saying that after Opus Dei women had had a house there for some time, there was only one vocation, and that financial matters were shaky. Besides, Marichu Arellano, one of the first women in the Work, who was regional directress of Venezuela, was somewhat identified with Rosario de Orbebozo's "crowd."

By then Monsignor Escriva had already dispatched numeraries formed by him. In Colombia, Pilar Salcedo (who was already in the country) replaced Josefina de Miguel. Maria Jose Monterde replaced Guadalupe Ortiz de Landazuri in Mexico. Gabriela Duclaud went to the United States instead of Nisa Guzman. Marisa Sanchez de Movellan was delegate in Spain. Lourdes Toranzo was regional secretary for Italy. The central advisory had practically disappeared, so much so that Monsignor Escriva asked us for a person of some stature whom he could bring from Spain to be secretary of the central advisory. As vice secretary of St. Michael, I strongly recommended Mercedes Morado, who was vice secretary of St. Gabriel in Spain. They followed my advice and Mercedes Morado came to Rome without knowing that she came to be secretary of the central advisory. The news had to be given by the Father in person.

I received Mercedes well. I even told Encarnita to give her my room, which had a shower, for the duration of the annual course. Certainly, she did not treat me in the same way when I returned to Rome a decade later.

That morning the mail from Venezuela made me apprehensive. I thought, the only person left is me. But then I told myself that it was foolish to worry, the Father had personally assured me the night before that I would stay in Rome seven more years.

The letter from Venezuela was sent that morning to Monsignor Escriva's dining room, and I was summoned that very day. I went up with Encarnita. The Father said to me: "Look, daughter, how far was I from imagining last night that this letter was going to arrive today? But, daughter, I have no choice but to think of you for Venezuela. You know well that I wanted to leave you here, and that it causes enormous inconvenience if you should go. Think it over, daughter, and tell me tomorrow."

I was troubled, but said I would think it over. When I got to the kitchen, I said to Encarnita: "I'm not going. I don't want to go to South America. France yes, but not Venezuela."

I could not concentrate on anything for the rest of the day, and that night I dreamt that the whole map from Canada to Patagonia fell on top of me. The fright woke me up.

During Mass and communion I thought about it seriously and made the comparison that if I had been married and my husband had had to go to any country in the world, I would have gone with him. Naturally, Encarnita followed me like a shadow, telling me not to fail the Father because of the trust he had put in me. I should realize that it was God who again asked something different in my life. Finally, after lunch, I went up to the Villa dining room and told the Father that I would go to Venezuela. Then and there the Father told Encarnita that that very afternoon Dr. Odon Moles, counselor in Venezuela, would come with Father Severino Monzo, central priest secretary, to the Villa dining room to meet us and to speak to me.

First of all, I went to the press and told the local council. Never in my life had I seen sadder people. They were very fond of me. Elena Serrano was devastated. But it was most difficult to tell Fernando Bayo. That afternoon he came to solve a few problems. I told him while he watched the pages fall from "Catalina."

Hearing my news, he abruptly turned off the machine.

"You're not going," he shouted, "because I say so and that's it." "Don Fernando," I said, "it isn't Encarnita, it's the Father who has asked me." "Well, people can say no! How can you leave now that you've mastered everything, and I am going to be ordained in a few months? You can't leave; this is crazy!" He was furious and said he would speak to the Father immediately.

The next two days he didn't appear at the press. When I called to say that we needed help, he said: "Call your directress and let her straighten things out."

Finally one day he came, still angry with me. I said to him: "Look, don't take it out on me, because I'm not to blame. It's hard enough for me to leave. Please help the women who are staying."

I was on the verge of tears, and he realized it. It was the last day I saw him. I called the rector of the Roman College of the Holy Cross a few days afterwards, and I said that I was going to Venezuela and wanted to say goodbye to Don Fernando. He replied that he knew I was leaving and that Don Fernando was so furious that they had sent him to Terracina to stop him from protesting.

I was encouraged, however, by my meeting with Dr. Moles in the Villa dining room. He made a marvelous impression on me. His training as a psychiatrist helped him put me at ease, and his evident love for Venezuela was contagious.

Monsignor Escriva told me I would not go to Venezuela alone but that I should select a numerary I wanted to help me. I chose Lola de la Rica, a Spanish numerary from Las Arenas near Bilbao, who was attending one of the annual courses of formation in Villa Sacchetti. She was in her mid-twenties, petite, slim with black hair and piercing dark eyes. She had a good education, particularly in medicine, for she was a midwife. Mature and serious with a delightful sense of humor, she had great savoir faire, perhaps as a result of her comfortable family background. From our first encounter in Rome, we felt at ease with one another. When I proposed that she go to Venezuela, she was surprised but liked the idea.

With the official documents that we received from Venezuela, we arranged for our visas in Rome. Though our papers stated that Lola would teach first aid and I Italian at the Opus Dei's Etame Art and Home Economics School in Caracas, she was to be a member of the Venezuela regional advisory, and I was the new Venezuela regional directress of Opus Dei women.

On September 23, 1956, we left Rome with the blessings of Monsignor Escriva and Don Alvaro. My heart was full of affection, confidence, and fidelity toward the Father and toward Opus Dei in general. I parted from Rome with all of the tablets of the law memorized, ready to fight for the unity of the Work with all my strength. Apart from this, though, the great force in my soul and bulwark of my hope was the security that come what might, the Father would always believe in me.



1. Vazquez de Prada, El fundador del Opus Dei, pp. 253-54.

2. This building was the servants' quarters when the Villa Tevere was purchased in 1947. It previously housed the Embassy of Hungary to the Vatican.

3. Peter Berglar, Opus Dei: Vida y obra del fundador Jose Maria Escriva de Balaguer (Madrid: Rialp, 1987), p. 246: "Monsignor Escriva commented how he had said to Pope John XXIII during an audience: 'In our Work, everyone, Catholic or not, has always found a cordial place; I have not learned ecumenism from Your Holiness.'"

4. Jose Maria Escriva, Camino, no. 115: "Minutes of silence. Leave them to atheists, masons, and Protestants who have their hearts dry. Catholics, sons of God, speak to Our Father who is in heaven." The Father had all copies of the first edition of Camino in Opus Dei houses burned. Subsequent editions modify nos. 115 and 145.

5. Berglar. Opus Dei, pp. 212-13.

6. Catherine Bardinet and Encarnite Ortega, both present at the encounter, told us about it.

7. Constitutions, 1950, p. 172, no. 440.

8. Monsignor Escriva established the custom for us to call his mother "la Abuela" (grandmother) and his siblings Carmen and Santiago "tios" (aunt and uncle), but since Santiago was so young, we seldom called him "uncle."

9. The Father has two custodes (plural of custos, guardian) "to watch over the spiritual and material good of the Father, who do not belong to the General Council of Opus Dei in virtue of this post. They are appointed to a five-year term by the Father himself among nine inscribed members presented to the Father by the General Council. They have their family life with the Father." This means that they accompany the Father wherever he goes. They are responsible for fraternal correction of the Father, one in regard to spiritual matters, the other in regard to material issues. See Constitutions, 1950, p. 132, no. 333.

10. In Spanish, "un cuerno," a coloquial expression; literally a "horn."

11. Vazquez de Prada, El fundador del Opus Dei, p. 262.

12. Vazquez de Prada, El fundador del Opus Dei, p. 291.

13. Cuadernos-3, p. 57.

14. Constitutions, 1950, p. 130, no. 328.

15. See Juan Arias, Un Dios para el Papa: Juan Pablo II y la Iglesia del Milenio (Madrid: Grijalbo, 1996): "... at that time [Father Arrupe remembered] the Founder of Opus Dei thought that the Jesuits did not like him, and he used to invite himself for lunch at the General House [of the Jesuits] in Rome, near the Vatican. During those meals, he [Escriva] would suddenly start crying, embracing, and kissing us" (p. 127).

16. See p. 2 of this work.

17. Inscribed members are designated by the Father. They occupy positions of authority or have tasks of formation within Opus Dei. Being an inscribed member involves promissory oaths, which are made by touching the gospels and invoking the name of Christ, swearing solemnly (1) to maintain the practice of fraternal correction, (2) not to desire positions of authority or desire to retain them, and (3) to live the virtue of poverty as in the foundational period. Constitutions, 1950, p. 26, no. 20.

18. Father Manuel Moreno was one of the many Opus Dei priests who left the priesthood. This was arranged quietly years ago. Eventually he married and became a supernumerary member.

19. Female electors have a "passive voice" in the election of the president general. They must already be inscribed members, at least thirty years of age, be in the Work and have made the fidelity at least nine years, be a proven member, have solid piety besides having performed services for the institute, have solid religious and professional culture. All of this is recorded in secret reports, given under oath as to their truth and sincerity, by the regional counselor and the local director. Naturally, Monsignor Escriva disregarded those rules when he felt like it, which is what he did on this occasion.
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Part 1 of 4


Lola Rica and I left Rome on September 23, 1956, with Carmen Berrio, who was going to Colombia. Previously, we wrote to our families in Spain explaining our new assignments in Venezuela and Colombia.

The Three of us arrived in Barcelona exactly on September 24, feast of Our Lady of Mercy, patron saint of Barcelona. It was a religious holiday. We went to the administration of Monterols, where years before I had spent several months. My first impression was that the house looked old. Perhaps it was the contrast with the Roman style to which I had grown accustomed. I knew some of the numeraries stationed there, but there were women I did not know, many of them recent vocations. I was delighted to see Mercedes Roig again. She told me that her numerary son, Barto Roig, was now also living in Venezuela, where he worked in the Textilana textile factory, which belonged to the family of another Catalonian numerary, who also had been assigned to Caracas.

Since our train arrived in mid-afternoon, they took us to Mass at a nearby public church. When we came back to the house after Mass, it was clear that everyone wanted to hear about the Father and about Rome -- it was as if Lola, Carmen, and I had come from Mecca. We were too exhausted to say much, however, and we asked them to let us go to bed.

The next day, Lola de la Rica and Carmen Berrio left for Bilbao fairly early, since Lola's family lived in Las Arenas and Carmen's in Bilbao, and they had to make their farewells. Because my train did not depart until that night, I went to the sanctuary of Our Lady of Mercy before leaving for Madrid.

I recall asking Our Lady's help because I was frightened at the responsibility of becoming regional directress of a country with which I was unfamiliar. Although I knew the country's basic geography, I had read very little of its history. I read the material Dr. Moles gave us in Rome but still had only vague notions about how the Etame Art and Home Economics School functioned. The students' names surprised me. In contrast with the Spanish custom of placing Our Lady's name, Maria, before any other: Maria Lourdes, Maria Pilar, for example, I saw Etame lists with names like Eva Josefina, Julia Josefina, and so forth. I also noticed that the questions put to the students on religion exams implied a very low level of Catholic education. One example: "If someone dies, what is better, light two candles to a saint or to have a Mass offered for his soul?" I felt very confused, even about the climate. I asked the Virgin to help and guide me.

On my arrival in Madrid, I went to stay in the headquarters of the Women's regional government for Spain, located in part of the building of the Montelar School of Art and Home Economics in Serrano Street, half a block from my family home.

I was warmly received by Crucita and Maria Sanchez de Movellan and particularly by Maria Ampuero. Their concerns ranged from reviewing my wardrobe and providing what they thought I might need, to giving me special permission to visit my family in whatever way I thought best. They knew that I had not seen my family for years and thought I ought to leave them and some of my friends with a good impression before leaving Spain. They told me simply to explain to the superiors where I intended to go each day. I was deeply appreciative, because this degree of autonomy was not at all frequent in Opus Dei.

The day after my arrival, Crucita Taberner, the regional directress for Spain, informed me that Father Antonio Perez- Hernandez [1] wanted to speak to me. Don Antonio Perez was the priest secretary general, the superior immediately following Monsignor Escriva in rank. Crucita and Maria told me that Maria Ampuero would accompany me on that visit. None of them knew why Father Antonio wanted to see me.

That afternoon we went to Lagasca and from the administration we went up to the dining room of the house at Diego de Leon, 14.

I had great respect and real affection for Father Antonio. He entered the dining room and told us to be seated. He was on one side of the large dining room table, and we were at the end near the window. After asking me about my trip and how the Father seemed, he went on immediately to the task at hand. His tone was serious but not angry. I recall his words clearly. "Maria del Carmen, a few days ago your father came to see me. He told me you had written to let him know that you were going to Venezuela. Your mother apparently became ill on hearing the news, and as you are the only daughter and oldest child, your father too was extraordinarily saddened. He asked me if there wasn't some way that you might stay in Spain."

Don Antonio looked at me closely; his countenance was serious, but he did not seem angry. "I told him in so many words that if he did not want you to go to Venezuela, you should not go. He is your father and has the right to have you nearby. Besides, I told him," Father Antonio added, "that whenever you deserved it, he could give you a couple of slaps."

I listened to everything in complete silence. Knowing my father, I realized that Don Antonio's account was accurate. At this point Don Antonio added, accurately again, that I had not been affectionate to my parents, that I had seldom written them, and that I never gave them the kind of news that families like to get.

"But your father is a true gentleman. He came to see me again and said that he didn't want to do anything that you didn't want and much less spoil your career in Opus Dei."

I smiled at the last part, realizing that my father had thought of Opus Dei in professional terms. A minute later I was almost crying as Don Antonio reminded me of how much my father loved me and how little I had returned his love. I had to make an effort not to start crying, because I had always loved my father deeply and it was difficult for me to leave him once again.

Father Antonio explained that he wanted to tell me all this before I saw my father. The date must have been September 27, 1956, since a week later, on October 4, I was due to leave for Venezuela.

We returned to Montelar. I was truly repentant. I must say that all of the members of the regional advisory tried to help me, because they knew that, on the one hand, I had to obey Monsignor Escriva and, on the other, Don Antonio was right about my obligations to my father and to my family.

In conversation with one of the advisors, I asked whether Don Antonio knew the list of restrictions imposed on numeraries regarding contact with their families. We thought that he must not know them, although this seemed incredible. To cheer me up Crucita and Marisa arranged for a special dinner that night and a get-together with the members of the regional advisory. They asked me how long it had been since I had seen a movie and were astonished when I told them that the last movie I saw was Boton de ancla in 1950 during the formation course at Los Rosales. They rented Ana, a fine film with Anna Magnani, a great hit at the moment, not only because of her performance, the bayon music and dance, but also because the central theme was the perseverance of a nun. The dinner, get-together, and movie were signs of affection and for a while made me forget the difficulties of the day and those that still lay ahead of me.

Although this diversion helped me forget my situation for a while, by the time I went to bed my inner conflict returned. I kept going over what Don Antonio had said, with his genuine sense of charity toward my family, but I could not ignore that Monsignor Escriva's attitude was quite different, insisting that our family should not be our first concern. I could not help but be impressed with the relaxed, affectionate atmosphere of the numeraries in the Spanish regional advisory. Seeing the movie reminded me of the outside world from which I had been cut off.

Although I had not lived in Montelar enough time to make an objective judgment, and consequently my opinion was impressionistic and intuitive, Montelar and the Spanish regional advisory seemed to me at the time to be the embodiment of how government and family life should be lived within Opus Dei. It was certainly a striking contrast to the cold asceticism of Encarnita Ortega and the women's headquarters in Rome.

The following day, I saw my father at coffee after the midday meal and in the same place as on other occasions. I had not seen my father for more than three years when he came on a short two-day trip to Rome on business. At that time, I went to his hotel room and saw my mother for barely an hour. The situation was so tense and harsh, because my mother refused to speak to me.

Now, in Madrid, and with the permission from the Spanish regional advisory, I had freedom in regard to the number and lengths of visits with my family. I tried my best to be understanding and affectionate with my family. At the same time, though it was hard for me to leave them, my feelings were very different from theirs. For them, I was going away for an unforeseeable length of time. For me, it was the price I had to pay to fulfill the will of God in the mission with which Monsignor Escriva had entrusted me.

Today, I understand my father's sadness more completely, because I have taken off the blindfold of fanaticism. I believe Opus Dei ought to have treated our families more humanely.

I also saw my brothers. I even went with my brother Javier to the Ybarra home to meet the girl to whom he was engaged. Her mother had just died. She was a delightful girl, who helped my brother enormously during his years in medical school.

I got to visit life-long friend Mary Mely Zoppetti and her husband, Santiago Terrer. During the week, I was with my father whenever he had time or with my brothers. My great regret was that I did not see my mother and did not know how many years it would be before I would see her. My father and brothers argued that it was preferable that I not go home to prevent a painful scene with my mother. Truly, it was an uncomfortable time.

Lola de la Rica and Carmen Berrio arrived in Madrid two days before our departure. On October 4 we left for Caracas with tickets purchased by the women's regional government of Venezuela and by that of Colombia in Carmen's case.

Climbing up the stairs of the three-engined Iberia plane, I said to Lola: "Today is October 4, the day we are supposed to do the expolium [2] and with the trip I completely forgot it." Lola de la Rica looked at me and said gravely: "Don't you think it's expolium enough to leave our country?"

She was right. One of the stewardesses, Cole Pena, I knew well. She took good care of us. For all three of us this was our baptism in the air, crossing the Atlantic. The first stop was at midnight on the Island of Santa Maria. The next stop was at San Juan in Puerto Rico. We were astounded by the beauty of Puerto Rico from the air: a blot of dark green against a deep blue sea. All the passengers were served breakfast in the San Juan airport cafeteria. I sat down in an empty seat, and when I looked at the woman across the table, she turned out to be Viruchy Bergamin who lived in Caracas and was returning from a visit to her sick son in Spain. Viruchy was the girl whose family took mine into their house in Madrid during the Civil War. Her father was the architect who built the residential zone El Viso and the Colonia de la Residencia. Viruchy talked enthusiastically about Caracas and described a number of buildings her father had constructed there. Naturally, she eventually asked me what I was going to do in Caracas. I said simply that I belonged to Opus Dei. She very courteously told me that we would doubtless not meet in the city because she did not approve of "those ideas." We never met again, which I regret.

The flight continued to Caracas where we arrived at noon on October 5, 1956. The heat and humidity was so oppressive at the Maiquetia Airport, that I sought shade under the airplane wing. Drops of oil splattered on my red dress, completely ruining it.

We went through customs and picked up our luggage without incident. Nobody was at the airport to meet us, which did not surprise us since the mail functioned very poorly in Venezuela then, and we thought that our letter might not have arrived, which was indeed the case. So we took a taxi, or "carro libre" as they are called, and headed toward Caracas on the recently opened highway.

Our first impression of Venezuela was that a military coup might be under way. The highway was full of soldiers with rifles. We did not question the driver. We had no idea of distances, and the trip began to seem interminable after half an hour. Finally, we reached the city which we had to cross to get to the Altamira neighborhood. Our address was correct and we immediately recognized the house from the photographs we had seen in Rome. "Etame" appeared in handsome wrought-iron letters on the wall. It was the name of the School of Art and Home Economics.

A maid came to open the door, but everyone got up from the table when they heard us arrive -- they were having lunch. I did not know Marichu, the regional directress, well, but I had seen her a few times. Of course I knew Begona Elejalde from Bilbao, and it was a delight to meet her again. Maria Teresa Santamaria, whom I had known in Rome, was also there. I only knew Ana Maria Gibert indirectly, because her brother-in-law Alfredo Alaiz was a colleague of my father. Nor did I know Carmen Gomez del Moral or Marta Sepulveda, a numerary from Mexico who arrived a few months earlier to help in proselytism.

They opened the door of the oratory so that we could greet the Lord. I noticed its baroque style. We passed through the central patio. The house charmed me. It was lovely. I suppose I fell in love with Venezuela at first sight. It seemed as though I had known that house all my life, with its central patio, a palm tree in the middle, a fountain at the end, corridors all around with doors and windows to the different rooms. The house was permeated with light. The dining room was in a corner of the same corridor. This house resembled houses in Andalusia. I soon discovered that Caracas is called "the city of red roofs." From the central patio one can see the mountains. A garden of "grama" grass surrounded the house, and a white wall ran around the property. The climate was splendid. I remember how Carmen Berrio went over the doors with her eyes and her hands and repeated: "It's mahogany, all the doors are mahogany."

They brought me to the regional secretary's room, where I left my luggage. Lola and Carmen were given other rooms. That afternoon I met the first and only Venezuelan vocation: Julia Josefina Martinez Salazar. She was finishing economics at the university. Julia was about twenty-seven years old, laughed easily, was tall, dark, pretty, with beautiful black eyes, but was spoiled and tended to be childish. She was the youngest of several sisters, who may have babied her very much when their parents died. It would be unfair not to add here that Julia Martinez changed and matured astonishingly during the years I was in Venezuela. After finishing her university studies, she became a very successful economist. For me, though, Julia's best trait was her humility. Supernumeraries liked her very much. Julia accompanied me on a number of apostolic trips to Valencia and Maracaibo. Her enthusiasm was contagious. Her loyalty was even more so. I was very fond of her and came to admire her. I never saw her again after I left Venezuela and learned with deep sorrow that she had died of cancer on August 28, 1987. Years later, on one of my trips to Caracas, I brought flowers to her grave.

On arriving in Caracas I telephoned the counselor, Dr. Moles. I said that the house was charming. He answered: "It is good that you like your workplace." During our brief conversation, I realized that Dr. Moles did not pronounce his z's in the Spanish style but as s's like Andalusians. He also would frequently interject, "Aha! Aha!" which meant "Yes! Yes!" Both usages, I later found out, showed his attempt to adapt to the Venezuelan manner of speech.

That afternoon Jose Maria Pena, who was the regional priest secretary, came to hear confessions. Before he entered the confessional, Marichu introduced us.

Several married women including two older Venezuelan supernumeraries came for confession. When Marichu introduced me, they exclaimed: "You're so young, child, you're just a baby!"

I answered: "Unfortunately that will be cured in no time." I was only 31 and those women were easily twice my age.

I realized that they were upset about Marichu's departure and that I would take over as directress for the country. I realized that the road ahead would not be easy, but I was not particularly frightened or discouraged.

One reason for my confidence was that Maria Teresa Santamaria was going to direct the work of St. Gabriel with supernumeraries. I felt comfortable because Maria Teresa was accustomed to dealing with married women, she was intelligent and had been in Rome. Especially at the beginning, this was reassuring.

Maria Teresa was very efficient. She was the secretary of the regional advisory. We had different points of view, perhaps because I was more fanatic, but I always admired her deeply. She had been a student at the Instituto Escuela in Madrid, and a sister of hers, who died as a child, was my classmate. After a visit to Venezuela from Father Jose Luis Muzquiz, sent by the Father, it was decided that Maria Teresa should go to the region of Canada. When she left, Lola de la Rica became regional secretary.

My first encounter with the tropics took place in the middle of the first night when shivering I got up to get my raincoat to use as a blanket, and discovered a winged cockroach some two inches long on my nightgown. Holding my breath I went to the bathroom and grasping it with toilet paper flushed it away. I found out next day that flying cockroaches were not unusual, and flies and mosquitos began to devour my legs. So, I issued my first order in Venezuela to install screens in all the windows, which was common practice there.

Next day Dr. Moles came to celebrate Mass. After Mass, Marichu and I spoke to him briefly. Marichu was preparing to go to Rome that week and had to bring mail and $3,000.00 for Monsignor Escriva, which in 1956 was a substantial amount.

In two to three days we completed the preparations for Carmen Berrio's trip to Colombia and Marichu's trip to Rome. Carmen Berrio was very attractive; intelligent and rational, she was unable to accept anything she did not understand. I had good conversations with her, and in fact, she returned from Colombia to stay in Venezuela for a while. She was not at all a fanatic.

Marichu did not speak much to me, but restricted herself to official matters. She explained that the Women's Branch paid a monthly rent for the house, which belonged to an auxiliary cultural association of the Men's Branch. I told her about Rome, about the Father, and about unity. I was so full of my Roman training that I simply forgot that Venezuela was not Rome. To make matters worse, I sent a letter to Rome speaking of Marichu's "bad spirit" because of the "deformation" she was causing in the first Venezuelan vocation, who had been spoiled and babied. Of course, I must have insisted that the spirit of unity was lived imperfectly, because of the comment that "The Father resembled Bolivar." It seemed offensive to me to compare Monsignor Escriva to Bolivar, who was a political leader, while Monsignor Escriva, by contrast, was a "saint." So I thought in my years as a fanatic in Opus Dei. However, if you can imagine a public opinion poll in Venezuela about who should be canonized, Bolivar or Monsignor Escriva, it's clear who would win!

It also surprised me that coffee was served after the midday meal every day instead of on Sundays or major feast days as in Rome or Spain. Naturally, some days later, after constant headaches made me vomit several times a day, I understood that coffee is a necessity, not a luxury, in a tropical climate.

Marichu went to Rome, and I know that she was savagely scolded, which was 90 percent my fault. I have not had the opportunity to beg her pardon, as I want to do now. Nobody has the right to do what I did, to judge without knowing the background well. This was the first and last pejorative report that I sent to Rome regarding a member of the Work.

Years later I learned that Monsignor Escriva gave lessons about things of which he was completely ignorant: how to deal with the customs of a country he had never visited, for instance. Those of us whom he sent to other countries as his puppets danced to the rhythm of the string that tied us to Rome.

Lola and I made our first sally into Caracas to a neighborhood called El Silencio in the center of the city. Despite its name, it is the noisiest part of the city. We had to visit the immigration authorities to arrange for a year's residence permit, according to the visa we had been issued by the Venezuelan consulate in Rome.

A few days later, a different Opus Dei priest, Father Rodrigo, who spent many years in Caracas, came to hear confessions. He had been a priest in the Roman College of the Holy Cross. He was adept at proselytism and acted as spiritual director to a select group of Caracas girls, many of whom belonged to a well-organized association devoted to helping the poor. The association was called "The Santa Teresita Committee," or just "The Committee." Among its leaders were Maria-Evita and Maria Teresa Vegas Sarmiento, Maria Elena Benzo, Maria Margarita del Corral, and Eva Josefina Uzcategui. The soul and brains of the committee were the first two. These girls belonged to prominent families. They had begun by going to confession with Doctor Moles, had attended classes at Etame, and now that Doctor Moles confessed and directed mainly married women, Father Rodrigo was the spiritual director of most of them.

Excepting Dr. Moles, who had become a Venezuelan citizen, the other priests were still Spanish subjects. Years later, Father Jose Maria Pena also became a Venezuelan citizen.

The Opus Dei women in Venezuela were all Spaniards. Only Lola de la Rica and I became Venezuelan citizens four years later, as soon as it was permitted by Venezuelan law.

When I came to know these girls during the following days, they impressed me quite favorably.

I was soon to learn that Venezuelan women were pretty, refined, and had exquisite taste. This was contrary to the widely held belief in Spain that South Americans were inferior to Spaniards. There was a refreshing openness between girls and their parents, especially their mothers. This early good opinion has been strengthened over the years; in my judgment, Venezuelan women are sincere, courageous, and capable of confronting almost any situation.

As I spoke with people, I realized that my Spanish sounded harsh and strong. In South America Spanish is much more gentle and musical. So I resolved to learn to speak it as the language is spoken in Venezuela, and acquire new terms, idioms, and expressions.

Caracas: Etame

Schools of art and home economics were preferred by Monsignor Escriva as the apostolate of Opus Dei women in many countries. In Costa Rica, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Chile, and Peru, Opus Dei women were founding such schools. These schools were created by Opus Dei to provide girls who were not interested in going to the university with a general education. Until the 1960s, upper-class Spanish and South American families preferred to give girls what they called "cultura general" rather than university training. Hence, Monsignor Escriva thought that these schools would be a great way to recruit girls from the upper classes.

More than once Opus Dei superiors and priests debated whether professional men felt more attracted by a woman's beauty or by her intellectual achievements. The Opus Dei apostolate in the schools of art and home economics might prepare women for a significant position in society in married life.

In Europe only Spain had these Opus Dei schools. Llar in Barcelona and Montelar in Madrid both recruited many vocations of numeraries and supernumeraries for Opus Dei.

In Madrid, Montelar began at the end of the 1950s. Located at Serrano, 130, in a residential area, on the same site where the house for the women's regional advisory was constructed, the school successfully attracted members of the Spanish elite. Classes were taught in ceramics, philosophy, languages, and cooking. The cooking class became the most popular, because Pilarin Navarro was a superb teacher. Renowned as one of the first Opus Dei numeraries, she was directress of the administration in Monsignor Escriva's house in Rome and then regional directress of Italy for many years. Later, as the sister of the then Finance Minister in Franco's cabinet, Opus Dei used her to make an impact on Spanish society ladies who attended her classes.

I should add that Pilarin Navarro left Opus Dei a few years later, totally disillusioned about Monsignor Escriva.

In Caracas, the classes at Etame were only held during the morning. In Ana Marla Gibert, who had a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Madrid and considerable teaching experience prior to entering Opus Dei as a numerary, we had an excellent philosophy teacher. Begona Elejalde taught arts and crafts. A real artist, she painted a marvelous mural and exotic birds in the room set aside for these activities. She was the numerary who made all the artistic tapestries for all the houses -- for both men and women -- in Venezuela. One of her last masterpieces was a triptych for the oratory of Urupagua, the center of studies for female numeraries in Caracas.

Cooking was the domain of Carmen Gomez del Moral, a numerary from Catalonia. These three women and Marichu Arellano founded the Women's Branch of Opus Dei in Venezuela. Carmen Gomez del Moral headed the apostolate with supernumeraries as well as the sewing group, whose members included Opus Dei cooperators. These sewing groups made all the linens for the oratories of the Opus Dei houses in Venezuela according to the measurements given by Monsignor Escriva through the women's central advisory. Since Rome revised these measurements quite frequently, oratory linens was turned over to poor parishes, and new linens made again for our own oratories.

When I arrived in Venezuela, I lived at Etame. The regional advisory also lived in this house and the advisors doubled as teachers in the school.

Etame was pretty and had all the charm of a colonial house. It was nicely decorated. Much of the credit should go to Dr. Odon Moles, then counselor, who made many suggestions. The classrooms became the numeraries' bedrooms at night. I lived in this charming house throughout my time in Venezuela; later we purchased a more appropriate building for the Etame school, leaving the original house, that we named "Casavieja," for the regional advisory living quarters and office space. This was the first real estate which the Opus Dei women had acquired on their own.

All of the Etame furniture was moved to the new house. Taking advantage of a visit of the architect Luis Borobio, a numerary who was living in Colombia, we requested through the counselor that he design the cover of the Etame brochure. This brochure was the first public-relations effort for a corporative activity of Opus Dei women. It served as a model for many subsequent brochures put out by Opus Dei.

For many years Casavieja preserved the historical roots of the foundation of the Opus Dei Women's Branch in Venezuela -- the first vocations had lived there and some numeraries had died there. In late 1991, Opus Dei had the house demolished to sell the lot at a handsome profit. Opus Dei, which is so obsessed with conserving and filing everything that refers to the first times of the institution or prelature and inculcates the notion that "poverty ought to be lived as in the foundational period," has torn down the house where work with women originated in Venezuela, with the object of financial gain.

As mentioned above, Lola de la Rica and I also taught at Etame. An excellent native speaker of French had been hired to teach that language. She had no connection with Opus Dei. The students of Etame were girls between 14 and 18 years old, mostly members of socially prominent families. From my room I could see the girls sitting in the corridor around the patio between classes. On occasion the teachers came into my room to unburden themselves if their class had not gone well or when they were having trouble with one of their students. During class time I generally did not leave the house in case anybody needed me or parents wanted to speak to me.

Most of our recruiting effort was directed at the girls who came in the afternoon. Most of them went to confession to Father Rodrigo. I soon realized that we could not follow the style of proselytism cultivated in Spain, since the girls repeated everything we told them to their mothers. I made an extra effort to meet the families and talk with them, so that they would have a better idea of what their daughters might be getting involved in.

Recruitment during my first year in Venezuela was quite successful; Monsignor Escriva and the central advisory in Rome were ecstatic with the progress of proselytism. After consulting Dr. Moles, I posed the possibility of a vocation to Marla Teresa Vegas, who became the second Venezuelan woman numerary. The third was Eva Josefina Uzcategui, a girl who was well situated in Caracas social circles. The fourth, Maria Margarita del Corral, came to us after strong opposition from her family. Her mother's brother was at that time the Minister of Health under the Perez Jimenez dictatorship, and his wife arranged for police surveillance of our house to see whether or not her niece came to visit. Maria Margarita's parents decided to take her away for several months on a trip abroad, but she came to stay with us on her return. She was an intelligent young woman who was excellent at recruiting and showed leadership qualities. Then Mercedes Mujica, nicknamed "Amapola," who had just turned sixteen and was finishing her secondary education in the Guadelupe School, requested admission. She always wanted to study sociology, but we eventually sent her to the Roman College of Santa Maria in Castelgandolfo, where she studied pedagogy.

The next numeraries were Elsa Anselmi, who was finishing her studies in pharmacy, and Sofia Pilo who was an architectural student. Without question it was a fine group which entered Opus Dei before the first anniversary of my arrival in Venezuela.

While Dr. Moles was still counselor in Caracas, we resolved to send four of the first vocations to study at the Roman College of Santa Maria. They were Julia Martinez, Eva Josefina Uzcategui, Sofia Pilo, and Maria Teresa Vegas.

Maria Teresa was very intelligent, refined, and well read. She had been brought up in prosperous circumstances, which allowed her much travel. Her mother was a sweet woman; her father was very protective of his daughters and suspicious about Opus Dei. He openly and publicly treated me with hostility.

Eva Josefina Uzcategui was a good, well-mannered girl. She had only a basic education without intellectual or artistic interests of any kind. She was well-placed socially and fond of attending all kinds of parties organized by well-known people. She was popular with men, although never engaged. Her family was not wealthy but, as the only girl in a family with two brothers, all her whims were heeded. She had considerable good will, but tended to be servile with Opus Dei superiors which left her open to manipulation.

Sofia Pilo was an absent-minded intellectual. Young and beautiful, she was a mixture of Jewish and Spanish blood. Though kind and sweet, she was very strong-willed and had difficulty combining her duties in Opus Dei with her studies to become an architect.

After preparations for the trip and explanations about the complexity of the central house in Rome, they all left with great anticipation for the Roman College of Santa Maria, still situated within the central house. I spoke to them of Monsignor Escriva frequently and with great affection.

Maria Teresa was the only one who had problems. Her trip to Rome, or more precisely, her return from Rome, made me doubt for the first time the central government's sense of justice and charity and Monsignor Escriva's love for his daughters. No clarification of exactly what happened in Rome was ever forthcoming; a telegram arrived saying that Maria Teresa was returning from Rome and that we should meet her flight and bring her to her parents' house because she no longer belonged to the Work.

I immediately informed the counselor who told me to go to Maiquetia.

When I met Maria Teresa at the airport, she seemed happy but disconnected. She still had her wonderful smile but was like someone out of touch with reality. She did not seem sad to leave Rome, and I asked her very little. On the way back I realized that Maria Teresa was sedated. At the moment, there was no time to consult anyone, and at the risk of being considered insubordinate, I took her to our house and put her to bed in the quietest and most out-of-the-way rooms of the house.

Dr. Moles came, and we explained Maria Teresa's situation. We did not know anything specific or if she had been sedated before departing from Rome. I told him that it seemed inappropriate to bring her to her parents in that state. Dr. Moles agreed. For several days Maria Teresa got up for a while to eat and went to the oratory, and returned to bed. Meanwhile, we had not informed her family that she had returned from Rome, because of her condition.

After a week, she came to my office and asked what she was doing in Caracas. I told her that she had been ill and that the superiors had recommended her return. We were informed by Rome later that Maria Teresa had had a breakdown. I listened to everything she wanted to tell me, as did Dr. Moles in the confessional. She came back with an irrational fear of the Father and the superiors in Rome. When she seemed stable enough to return home, Dr. Moles broke the news to her father, who accepted his daughter's illness -- assuming she had inherited it from her mother's side of the family. Maria Teresa made no objection about returning to her family, but there were painful scenes before we were able to explain to her that she was no longer a member of Opus Dei. Years ago, she married, has children, and is an Opus Dei supernumerary.

I tried not to dwell too much on this experience at the time, but it never completely left my mind, raising doubts about the central government's sense of charity and justice. How could they put a sedated person on a plane without telling anyone? They could have waited a few weeks for the crisis to pass, or one of the superiors could have accompanied her on the trip. I had always believed in Monsignor Escriva's affection for his daughters, so it seemed cruel to let Maria Teresa travel alone in her condition without the least security. Was it a manifestation of paternal affection to abandon a daughter in that condition, to tell her that she was no longer part of Opus Dei because of a breakdown and to send her back to her family home in such a state? This incident was an alarm, so to speak, that began to awaken latent doubts.
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Part 2 of 4

Secretarial Schools

From 1964 Opus Dei began the transition from art and home economics schools to secretarial schools in several countries, including Venezuela. The only recognized school of secretarial studies that began as such was Kianda in Nairobi, Kenya. It opened at the social and political crossroads in the changing status of women in that country. Opus Dei started Kianda and obtained several vocations from it.

During recent years, given the vast changes in education of women all over the world, the secretarial schools as well as the schools of art and home economics have practically disappeared. In a sense, Opus Dei has changed the schools of art and home economics and secretarial schools into secondary schools. In many cases the previous buildings and names remain the same, but the activities are different.

Language School

The only language school for women officially founded by Opus Dei is Seido in Kyoto, Japan.

Casavieja: Women's Branch Regional Government

When Etame moved, leaving Casavieja to the Women's Branch regional government, it took all the furniture. We refurnished the building little by little.

A supernumerary, Beatriz Roche de Imery, who came to Mass each morning contributed the gray marble floor and even paid for its installation. Luis Borobio designed the stained glass window with the three archangels, St. Michael, St. Gabriel, and St. Raphael, patrons of the different apostolates of Opus Dei. Don Luis de Roche, a cooperator, and Beatriz de Imery's mother gave generous contributions to make the stained glass window possible. Begona Elejalde and I supervised the artisan's work. I was delighted with the oratory when it was finished: it was truly a thing of beauty.

Dora McGill de las Casas, the widow of the prominent Dr. Herman de las Casas and a supernumerary for many years, presented us with a marvelous polychromed wooden statue of Our Lady. It looked medieval. She was with me when I found it in an antique shop, and seeing that I wanted it for the oratory in Casavieja, she bought it for us. She also gave us the bronze light fixtures for the oratory and embroidered the Opus Dei seal in red velvet on the back of the pews. Dora also donated a delicate set of antique chairs for the visitors' parlor. They needed to be upholstered, which we did ourselves. We also upholstered a good deal of furniture for the Men's Branch, both for the residence and the counselor's house. Naturally, we did not receive the slightest remuneration for our time or work. It is assumed that the Women's Branch of Opus Dei should do things of a practical nature as a way of living unity.

Dora de las Casas, who had been so good to us, ceased to be a supernumerary, because the Opus Dei numeraries paid no attention to her after I left Venezuela. On my last visit to Caracas I went to visit her with my friend Mrs. Cecilia Mendoza de Gunz at the nursing home to which she had moved. She had lost her ability to speak, but her old smile remained. We spoke to the nurse who cared for her, who said that beside some family members nobody came to see her. When we asked whether a priest visited her, they said no.

Once again I was jolted by the lack of charity -- there is no other word for it -- with which Opus Dei treats those who cease to be members of the prelature. This lady was extraordinarily generous: she gave scholarships for the Roman College of the Holy Cross and cooperated in every Opus Dei fundraising activity in Caracas, for whatever purpose. When Cecilia and I left her, we realized we were crying as we walked along the street. She died months ago, and I received the news with great sorrow, because I loved her like a sister and a close friend.

In Casavieja, each advisor had her room. I took personal charge of seeing that all the advisors lived comfortably and had what they needed for their work. Lola de la Rica, then secretary of the Women's Branch regional government, had the birds room, which Begona had painted. Later Eva Josefina Uzcategui would occupy the room, when she became secretary after Lola de la Rica went to Mexico. I never understood that turn of events. Lola de la Rica carried more than her share of responsibility as secretary of the regional advisory. In addition to our rigorous spiritual regime that included bodily mortification, she devoted considerable time to her classes at Etame School, while running one of the three houses we were directing and also developing the future structure of the Women's Branch in Venezuela. She was superb in every way. She helped me enormously on my arrival in Venezuela and put her shoulder to the wheel in the administrations along with the servants. The houses were large and the help was scarce and inefficient, mainly composed of 13 and 14 year-old girls. More than once Lola had to tell her charges a story to encourage them to work. At other times she had to confront more serious problems, as when she realized one of them was pregnant.

However much youthful vigor you have, it is exhausting to carry such a burden of responsibility every day, and Lola was very responsible. What finally exhausted her were the demands of Don Roberto Salvat Romero, the counselor who replaced Dr. Moles. The new counselor required perfection in the three administrations. Lola was completely open with me, but felt that making a complaint would show lack of unity.

With her consent, we first consulted the women's central advisory in Rome as to whether she could go to Mexico, where the work was more stable and she could rest for a couple of months. So, she went. I corresponded with Marla Jose Monterde, then regional directress of the Women's Branch in Mexico, who had been with me in the central government. She told me that Lola was getting better. When it was time for Lola de la Rica to return to Venezuela, I received a letter from Maria Jose Monterde notifying me that after consulting her the central advisory had decided to leave Lola de la Rica in Mexico. To be truthful, I was furious, because apart from my great personal esteem, Lola was the mainstay of our work in Venezuela. We did not receive any kind of explanation for this decision. Later I learned that Lola de la Rica had returned to Spain. In conformity with the spirit of Opus Dei, I could not ask anything about the reasons that had led to the decisions.

In the absence of Lola de la Rica, the Woman's Branch central government named Eva Josefina Uzcategui Bruzual, secretary of the regional government. We got along well. Since she was the second in command in the regional government, I tried to teach her everything I knew, from how to type to write a note. I always kept her informed about everything, so that she could replace me at any moment. Her preparation, however, was very deficient, probably because she had never worked or studied. In all the government activities, I tried to give her and all the other advisors complete charge of their tasks. Personally, I got along well with all the members of the country's regional government, as well as with the directors of individual houses. I also learned in Venezuela to control my explosive temper. I can truly say that the person who arrived in Venezuela and the person who left that country ten years later were two different individuals. Venezuela changed me, thank God. All of the members in the country, especially the numeraries, knew that I loved all of them together and each one in particular with all my soul. That made them confide in me fully and correspond in my affection. They were certain, and rightly so, that I was not going to send a report about any of them to Rome without first having tried to correct whatever it was. My reasoning was very simple. If somebody does something wrong, she is corrected; she recognizes her fault and promises to change. If it is serious, she goes to confession, and that should be the end of it. Why send a report about that to Rome? Except for some extreme case, I wanted to make sure that no one's name would appear in central government records with negative comments. This does not mean that we ceased to inform about what was really important. What I always tried to avoid was to meddle with consciences and personalities. When I was in the central advisory, I saw how easily a person could be judged irresponsibly because of lack of perspective or ignorance often caused by distance and the peculiarities of a country or particular situation. Recognition of my own earlier errors in this regard taught me to act cautiously as directress of the Women's Branch in Venezuela.

Dealing with people, both girls and married women, always attracted my apostolic spirit. To be able to help and give them good advice, to bring their souls nearer to God, and to make their lives better, was always my north star. In addition to personal apostolate, proselytism was a major concern to me in Venezuela. My first year was exclusively devoted to the work of St. Raphael, to push these young girls to take the final step of giving themselves to God in Opus Dei. I was in charge of receiving the weekly confidences of these new vocations at the beginning, in addition to those of the older numeraries. Little by little, according to how they assimilated the customs and spirit of Opus Dei, I would leave those young souls in the hands of the other members of the regional government and of the directors of the different houses, and I gradually concentrated on the internal apostolate of the formation of numeraries and superiors.

Financial management occupied much of my time. It required seeing persons who might be able to help us. This endeavor brought many disappointments and much joy when things came out right.

I had realized from the beginning that it was necessary to acquire another house, since the Art and Home Economics School had to be separated from the living quarters of the members of the regional advisory. When I mentioned this to Dr. Moles, he suggested that I go to speak to Dona Cecilia Gonzalez Eraso and ask her to donate her house. She lived in the Anauco Estate, which is now a museum and historic landmark.

"What if she says she lives in it?" I asked. "You might then mention," Dr. Moles countered, "that she has another house on El Bosque avenue." "If she says no?" "In that case, tell her to give you 40,000 bolivares [at that time equivalent to $20,000], enough for the down payment on a house."

A visit was arranged for four o'clock one afternoon, and Ana Maria Gibert accompanied me.

The house and garden captivated me. Mrs. Eraso was charming, and the conversation was easy. I did not know that she was the widow of a Spaniard, whom the communists killed in the Spanish Civil War. She was very pious, very intelligent, and a charming person. It turned out that the girlfriend of her only son was a student in Etame. Ana Maria talked to her about how good the girl was. Once the social part of the visit was over, I had to bring up the financial matter. With great calm, I explained that we needed a large house for Etame and thought she might want to give us her house. She began to laugh and jokingly said to me: "And where do you want me to go?" "Why not go to your house on El Bosque?" I suggested with aplomb.

She smiled but said no, and I relied on my fall-back position: "Do you think that you might give us 40,000 bolivares to buy a new house?" "Yes, I could," she said with a smile. "I will send the money with my chauffeur in two weeks."

We left with the same ease with which we had arrived.

When we got home, I called Dr. Moles and told him. He could not believe it. He thought we had misunderstood. But, in effect, two weeks later, the chauffeur arrived with a check for 40,000 bolivares. Dr. Moles told me later that he was convinced that I had realized that he was speaking in jest when he had mentioned the house and the request for money. He was surprised to learn of the results of the visit.

For the second major request I approached Napoleon Dupouy, whose daughter was one of our students. The amount was another 40,000 bolivares. We began house hunting in earnest.

Having raised 80,000 bolivares, I began to negotiate the first bank loan for the Women's Branch in Venezuela with the director of the Banco Mercantil y Agricola.

Our main source of income were the supernumeries' contributions. Each month Beatriz Roche de Imery and her mother sent us some 3,000 bolivares with which we were able, on the one hand, to pay the rent for Casavieja and, on the other, send to Rome at least 1,000 bolivares for the construction of the Roman College of the Holy Cross. We also had to send $300 a month for scholarships for the men at the Roman College of the Holy Cross who were studying to become Opus Dei priests, and another $300 a month to pay for three scholarships at the Roman College of Santa Maria, whether or not we had students there. When it was all added up, we sent more money to Rome than we kept to live on.

As soon as money came in every month, we would get a check in dollars at our bank. (We had an account in the name of Ana Maria Gibert, Elsa Anselmi, and myself at the Bank of London and South America in Chacao.) We had been instructed by the Central Advisory that the check should be made out to "Alvaro del Portillo. For the Works of Religion" (Per le Opere di Religione). During the ten years I was in Venezuela we sent him checks of at least $10,000 a year, a considerable sum in those days.

What was more heroic, as I found out, was that as early as in the first three years of the foundation of the Women's Branch in Venezuela, while the numeraries used toothpaste that came as publicity samples to avoid purchases, they sent what for them were large amounts to Rome, even though the sums were less than we sent subsequently for the construction of the Roman College.

Ever since I joined Opus Dei, I had been told that, because we were poor, we could not give alms, but that superiors in Rome took the responsibility of doing so. This was one of many things that I believed with all my soul.

When I arrived in Venezuela and was told that we had to send all the money we could "for the Works of Religion," I was absolutely convinced that the funds were for vast charitable endeavors that Opus Dei would conduct from Rome. I left Opus Dei with that belief intact.

One New Year's Day, as a guest in the home of Dr. Mino Buonomini and his wife, Dr. Teresa Mennini, whom I met after leaving Opus Dei, I discovered that Teresa's father was a Vatican economist and that on Epiphany the whole family was accustomed to go to visit the Pope. Somehow they mentioned the name of the Bank for the Works of Religion (Banco per le Opere di Religione) as a financial institution. I was shocked. The money that we used to send from Venezuela to Rome had been deposited into the account in Don Alvaro's name that Opus Dei had in that bank.

I do not know whether a human being can become more deeply disillusioned than I was with Opus Dei when I made that discovery.

The amounts that arrive in Rome are quite out of proportion to the two or three social projects that Opus Dei has begun in Central America in the last few years; each country where there are such projects is responsible for financing them. The money sent to Rome is not earmarked for such activities; it is made possible by the generous efforts of Opus Dei members who believe in their superiors. Perhaps some will consider me naive, if at my age and at this late date, I still dare ask whether the church knows all this. How much money does Opus Dei receive in Rome and where does it go? What are the activities that Opus Dei sponsors on behalf of the poor, the homeless, and the unemployed?

Among the members of the Venezuela regional advisory relationships were good. Some of the numeraries, however, found it difficult to accept Eva Josefina Uzcategui as a superior, partly because she had no higher education but also because she would sometimes innocently refer to having moved in the cream of Caracas society in addition to dropping subtle hints about her social successes with the young men of her generation. However, the members in the central advisory in Rome, particularly Mercedes Morado, then central directress, thought very highly of her. They considered that she had very good spirit because she addressed them with great deference and accepted whatever they said, no matter who suffered for it. A good demonstration of that was her appointment as delegate in Venezuela, ignoring the proposal that by request of the central advisory we had sent individually as inscribed members in Venezuela. We recommended Elsa Anselmi as a mature, serious person, with professional experience. (She was then the director of a toxicology laboratory.)

When word came from Rome that Eva Josefina Uzcategui had been appointed delegate for Venezuela, second in command in the regional advisory, I was deeply concerned, since the country was now in the hands of an easily manipulated person. The position of delegate is very important. According to the Constitutions, she is the second in rank in the regional government. The delegate has a vote and a veto in the regional government and a vote in the central government. She represents the central government to the regional government and is the representative of a particular country, in this case Venezuela, to the central government. I was worried that her notion of "good spirit" meant yielding to the slightest hint from the counselor or the central advisory in Rome. Nevertheless, I knew the importance of unity and recalled Monsignor Escriva saying: "In Opus Dei great brains are no use because they turn into swelled heads. Average minds, my daughters, are very useful, because they are docile and prepared to accept whatever is told them." Accordingly, I accepted the decision, and during the weeks that Eva Josefina spent in Rome at the gathering of delegates, I worked with Begona Elejalde to prepare her room, have the furniture upholstered, and organize her closets and filing cabinets in agreement with the rescript sent by the central advisory, where it was specifically indicated how the delegates' rooms should be. We naturally left a bathroom and telephone line for her exclusive use. Her room turned out to be very pretty and quite functional.

What had been a noisy house when Etame shared the building was now quiet. We could hear the song of the "Cristo fue," a Venezuelan bird whose chirp seems to repeat "Cristo fue" (It was Christ), according to legend, a reward for the bird's having perched on the arm of the cross when Our Lord died.

The sessions room of the government was also decorated in colonial style. In it was the statue of Our Lady of Coromoto, patroness of Venezuela, prepared under the direction of Dr. Moles by a Basque sculptor, Ulibarrena, who lived in Caracas. Virgin and Child have the facial features of the Andes Indians. The statues were brought to Rome to be blessed by Monsignor Escriva.

To let light into the advisory conference room we placed beautiful wrought-iron grills where there had previously been a wall, and the adjoining porch became the living room where get-togethers usually took place and where we watched TV. I tried to have everyone see the news each night and often pretended I did not notice when the allotted half hour had gone by if a good picture or a ballet was on. I wanted these periods to be occasions when everyone could be at ease, feeling that exact observance of a regulation was of less importance than genuinely Christian spirit. When the priests would tell me that I "ought to take care of my sisters," that was one of my applications, not just handing out aspirins for headaches.

Our apostolate was with married women of the upper levels of society, where wealth and power come together, women whose husbands or families were known and respected throughout the country. Our friendship with such persons separated us from the people, from the poor. I believed what Opus Dei told me: that apostolate with the poor was not our task but belonged to religious congregations. Opus Dei's statement of goals proclaims that it should "do apostolate among all social classes, especially among intellectuals." I would note that rather than among intellectuals who cultivate the humanities, who are not usually rich, Opus Dei concentrates its apostolate with technocrats, that is with intellectuals from the sciences, banking, and the law; in a word, with the groups who control the money and power in a country. Opus Dei women do apostolate with the wives of influential men. Yet, I had heard Monsignor Escriva say frequently: "The poorest people are often the intellectuals, they are alienated from God and nobody cares for them."

It is a fact that Opus Dei houses are furbished according to the social status of the people with whom apostolate is done.

The numerary women dress well without being luxurious. This does not mean that our wardrobe was our own, because by virtue of the vow of poverty, we were always prepared to give up anything the instant a superior might indicate it should be given to another person who might need it for whatever reason. In other words, what I usually kept in my closet was what I used all week long. If a month went by and something was not actually being used, it was given to the person in the house who could best use it. In general Opus Dei numeraries dress better than many upper middle-class women, and Opus Dei houses generally have an atmosphere in which working-class women would feel completely out of place except as a servant. There are, to be sure, places explicitly devoted to apostolate with peasant women or servants.

The essence of poverty in Opus Dei is not "not possessing but being detached." This provokes many objections. I was indeed aware that we moved among upper classes and consequently moneyed people. More than once Monsignor Escriva told us, women of the central advisory in Rome a propos of the house, "No husband would have given you what the Work has given you."

We had the newspaper delivered every day to all of the Women's Branch houses in Venezuela. Nobody was excused from reading the paper, because we had to be informed about what was going on. I did not want our people to live in the limbo in which I dwelled for so many years in the Work.

Similarly, in the Women's Branch regional government we agreed that we had to begin to read books. We decided to start with the best sellers that people who came to the house talked about. I recall that one of the first books we read was Exodus. Afterwards we would recommend the books to one or another numerary according to their interests. Our people began to get out of the dark tunnel in which we had lived for years.

Music also brought new dimensions to our lives. Children in Venezuela learn to play the cuatro, a little guitar with four strings, used as accompaniment for folk songs from Caribbean variety to the rhythmical melodies of the interior. Young people still get together nowadays to play the cuatro. Particularly during the Christmas season, the cuatro is an essential ingredient for the Christmas carols. By now, all our houses had record players that were either gifts or had been brought by the numeraries when they came to live permanently. We always played records on feast days and Sundays when you also have an aperitif.

Weekly outings were absolutely required, although not necessarily in groups. Everyone took advantage of her outing to do apostolate or proselytism. Frequently two of us would be interested in going to the same art exhibit, if we were free and had a car available.

When I arrived in Caracas, only Carmen and Begona could drive the car, so I ordered all the numerary women to learn to drive and to get their driver's licenses.

I modified the regional secretary's room a little. I had a little closet made in the bathroom and devoted the large closet in the room to the government archives. There was also an IBM executive typewriter and, in a different place in the house, a copying machine and a paper shredder.

"Secure Places"

One constant problem was Opus Dei's obsessive concern for the safekeeping of documents. We received elaborate orders from Rome to have a "secure place" where duplicates of all personal records of numerary, supernumerary, oblate, and servant members might be filed. The originals had to be hand delivered to the central advisory in Rome. The personal sheets on members contained photographs and such standard information as the date of birth plus data concerning incorporation into Opus Dei; since the abbreviation for the Venezuelan Women's Branch was Vf, my record was filed under Vf-1/50. That meant I was the first person who had made the oblation in the year 1950.

These notes were kept in the secure place along with the wills of the numeraries, the Opus Dei Constitutions (on those days when the counselor lent them) and Monsignor Escriva's Instructions, Regulations, and Letters. These were documents ad usum nostrorum, for internal use. Next to the secret place there was a bottle of gasoline to burn whatever was necessary, in case of emergency. In my own closet in Casavieja, for example, which was in the bathroom, Alicia Alamo, an architect, had dug a hole in the floor, lined it with cement and covered it with a wooden trap door. On top was a mosaic which hid the trap door and was removed to open it. This device would never have been entrusted to an outside worker. Besides being an architect, Alicia Alamo was an Opus Dei numerary for many years. Subsequently, she became a supernumerary as she needed greater freedom of movement and was feeling suffocated as a numerary.


A code book was sent from Rome -- naturally hand-delivered -- to decipher reports. It was a small book entitled San Gerolamo, bound as an ordinary volume and to be placed among the other books of the regional director's bookcase. This volume consists of a series of chapters without explanation, simply followed by words. To be specific, there would be a Roman numeral as if starting a chapter, and then Arabic numerals followed by terms such as:

1. good spirit
2. bad spirit
3. orderly
4. respectful toward superiors
5. serious faults against unity
6. faults against poverty

Suppose, for example, that a regional assessor wants to send a report saying that a numerary, whom we may call Elizabeth Smith, has committed serious faults against unity. Then, on a four-by-two inch piece of paper, she would note the country code in the upper left with the number that identifies this note. In the center, she would put, Vf-3/53, which would correspond to Elizabeth Smith, and at the bottom of the paper, the date. On another paper, sent under separate cover, at the upper left the country code followed by the number that identifies this new note; at the right would be the reference (Ref.) to the previous note; in the center there would be only:

IV. 1.5

When the notes come, someone opens San Gerolamo to chapter I, section 1 and goes to number 5, where she reads "grave faults against unity." The interpretation is that Elizabeth Smith, the third numerary who made her oblation during 1953, has committed grave faults against unity.

Opus Dei produces mountains of rescripts, notifications, and notes. The curious thing is that the superiors in the central government recommended to numeraries in regional and local governments that these rescripts be used as spiritual reading and that they be taken as the topic for our personal mental prayer. Once more you can see how indoctrination in the spirit of Opus Dei is placed above Christian formation. Obviously, in the central house on the office floor, there was the required "secure place for documents." Once when I was with Monsignor Escriva in his office and on another occasion as well, I heard him say that one of the walls of his room could be moved to permit entrance into Opus Dei's central secret archives. "It is not that we have anything to hide," he added, but they were family matters that were none of anybody's business.

All this was part of Monsignor Escriva's obsession with security. He began with the oratories. He frequently stated verbally and left a good deal of written material repeating the idea that: "Our oratories ought to be secure places where no one can enter."

The security of the Opus Dei women's headquarters at Via di Villa Sacchetti, 36, is like a medieval fortress. The main door is armor-plated and has no lock on the outside. To open it from the inside, you must give five turns of the key, which is never left on a table or tray or in a drawer. The key always hangs at the belt of the concierge, that is to say the maid or other person responsible for opening the door. If someone wants to go out, she has to ring a bell next to the door and wait for the concierge to come to open the door. If you have been out, you press the door bell which registers on the bell panel located in the little room off the Gallery of the Madonna; two persons -- two servants or one servant and a numerary -- come to open the door. Nowadays there is also an intercom at the main door.

There is another entrance called the "service" or "delivery" entrance in the same area, whose street number is Via di Villa Sacchetti, 34. If someone calls at this door, the concierge first has to open the door that opens on the vestibule. Then she opens a door with a little window that opens onto the space next to the street. Then, after turning the key in the lock of the street door and removing the key, she gets behind the door with the little window, which has a large bolt. She slips this bolt and presses an electronic button which opens the door to the street at a distance. The system is evidently quite elaborate. There is a third door for merchants, which opens onto the other street. This part of the building was under construction when I left Rome and I am not familiar with the details of its functioning.

What I am trying to make clear is that nobody, absolutely nobody in Opus Dei women's headquarters in Roma can just open a door and go out.

By contrast in Venezuela, in Casavieja, since the staff was composed of a few, very young maids, who only helped with the kitchen and laundry, we installed an electronic device with an intercom, so that when somebody called I could identify the person and open the door from my desk without having to get up. When someone wanted to go out of the house, the only thing she had to do was to take the key which hung next to the door to open it. The door that opened onto the garden worked like any other door in the house.

During a period when the security in houses was a matter of great concern because of the danger of robbery or rape, I remember that the ecclesiastical assistants advised us to keep guns in the house. Those numeraries who had weapons in their family home brought four or five revolvers and ammunition. I kept them in a drawer of the bureau next to my desk and at night checked the guns. I have never used a revolver in my life, but Elsa Anselmi, daughter of a colonel, knew very well how to handle guns and apparently was a good shot. One day she wanted to know what she should do in case of an emergency, "aim to wound or to kill." I remember well Ana Maria Gibert saying: "Ay, not to kill, please." The truth is that I was puzzled and told her that it was better that we should ask the ecclesiastical assistants, which we did. The answer was very vague: "At such a moment, do what you can." The revolvers were still there when I left Venezuela.

Many years later, I was talking one day with Raimundo Panikkar and told him this story. He listened attentively and finally said, "The two things are not comparable! How can you compare the responsibility for killing someone with the personal trauma of a rape?"


Also kept in the secure places at the central or regional advisories are the wills that all members of the Work make when they make the perpetual commitment called the fidelity. On arrival in Venezuela, I mentioned that oddly enough I had not made my last will and testament. We did not write them when we made the fidelity in Rome. There were several others who had not made their wills either. We asked the counselor for a model to follow in making a will. I remember that we each wrote them out longhand. The opening, besides the usual formula identifying the writer, continued with an affirmation of having lived and wanting to die in the Catholic faith along with an explicit statement that the Father had instructed us to include: "I desire that I be wrapped for burial in a simple white sheet." We had to respect Venezuelan law which stipulated that if our parents were alive, they must receive a certain percentage of the deceased's property, the so-called legitima. All goods that we could freely dispose of were assigned to two Opus Dei members, whose names were left blank. When the Women's Branch got its own "auxiliary corporation," ASAC, about which I will speak below, the counselor told us to remake our wills and leave all our property, except the legitima, of course, to ASAC. Monsignor Escriva repeatedly proclaimed that we had the freedom to leave our goods to whomever we pleased, but that logically it was absurd to leave them to anybody but the Work. The comparison was that a married woman leaves her property to husband and children, not to the husband and children of the neighbor across the street.

However, the comparison is fallacious, because "by the husband and children of the neighbor across the street" could well mean brothers and sisters or a family member who might really need what was ours. At that time I did not know that there are religious orders and congregations that stipulate that their members will their assets in favor of anyone but the order or congregation to which they belong. Monsignor Escriva always cited as an example of "bad spirit" the case of a servant who had a donkey in her village and in her will left it to some relative. We never knew who the servant was nor what Opus Dei would have done with the burro! The copy of the testaments are sent to Rome and the originals stay in the secure place within the regional headquarters.

When an Opus Dei member leaves or is expelled, her will is not returned. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that one of the first steps that all of us took on leaving Opus Dei was to draw up a new will.

Internal Studies: Records and Certificates

It is quite certain, and I bear personal witness to the fact, that also kept in the secure place and sometimes in the archives as well are copies of the original final exam grade sheets for each course in Opus Dei's internal studies of philosophy and theology. The original record goes to the central advisory in Rome. These records include the name of the course and the name of each numerary who took the exam with a column of grades from one to 20. At the end of the page the professor of the course signs first, then the regional director of studies, the regional counselor, the regional priest secretary, and the regional directress. Finally the act is stamped with the Opus Dei seal. The official seal to be stamped on those acts came from Rome; in Venezuela it read, as I recall, "Collegium Romanum Sanctae Mariae. Regionis Venezolanae."

In Venezuela we remarked on the extraordinary-foundational-circumstance that as regional directress I signed the page at the bottom, even though I was graded as one of the students of these classes. We knew from the Opus Dei Catechism that these internal studies had recognition within Opus Dei and to some degree outside, because, if a male numerary went to Rome to do his doctorate in a pontifical university, he only needed a maximum of two years to finish his degree, because the internal studies were accepted by those pontifical universities, but not at a state university.

What is difficult to understand is why, despite keeping such records, Opus Dei has been unwilling, when requested by someone leaving the institution, to provide the former member with a statement specifying the courses and subjects they have completed, why in order to deny it, Opus Dei even lies. Furthermore, it neither acknowledges nor certifies that former members of Opus Dei have been professors of regional or interregional centers of internal studies. This is a terrible injustice to those persons who have devoted their time to teach in accordance with Opus Dei's program of studies. If this were the practice of an ordinary educational institution it would doubtless be deemed a breach of professional ethics.

It will be helpful to keep this in mind for in the last part of this book I will discuss what Opus Dei publicly said and wrote about my studies.

An important setback occurred just a few months after I arrived in Venezuela: Dr. Moles came to our house one day after lunch and said that he had just been assigned to Rome to get his doctorate in theology. He was leaving for Rome now that vocations were arriving and there was so much to do. Out of consideration for Dr. Moles, whom I always greatly respected and appreciated, there is no need to describe our conversation in detail. The main point was that he was leaving and that the recently ordained Roberto Salvat Romero was taking his place.

To our immense regret, Dr. Moles left Venezuela and Father Roberto Salvat Romero became counselor. At his first meeting with the regional government, he told us that "Now everything is going to be different, and everything is going to change."

We did not know exactly what he wanted to change, but we all thought that Father Salvat wished to wipe out Dr. Moles' image and establish an Opus Dei image more "by the book."

Dr. Moles was a physician from Barcelona, specialized in psychiatry. Then in his forties, he was very intelligent, exquisitely mannered, tall, and handsome. Though very serious, Dr. Moles was kind and open, with a marvelous sense of humor. He was an excellent listener, patient, well-balanced, and direct. Unlike some Opus Dei priests he was not given to outbursts of scolding persons who failed to understand the institution. On the contrary, his calm understanding always managed to bring people into dialogue. A personal recollection portrays him well: I approached him once with obvious irritation and disappointment because in readying a house for a retreat for a group of ladies due to begin that very morning, I had been left alone the day before by the new vocations: consequently, I spent the entire night working with no sleep; he listened attentively and looking at me said seriously:

"You know, that was exactly what happened to a friend of mine in similar circumstances." "To whom?" I asked. "To Jesus Christ, when he was left alone by his chosen disciples."

That was Dr. Moles.

Father Salvat was the source of a profound change in our lives. He had a low esteem for Opus Dei women. He did not say that he disliked us, but he let it be known that we had no brains.

Father Roberto Salvat was from Madrid. He had earned a law degree but never practiced his profession. Thin, of medium height, with black wavy hair, not exactly good looking; he could be polite but not refined. He was jumpy, nervous, tense, and chewed his nails. He did not exude peace, security, or calm. I attributed his behavior to immaturity. As regional vicar of Venezuela (then called counselor), he held a lot of power, but he did not help solve regional problems, largely because he lost his temper quickly. He had gone to Venezuela as a layman, went to Rome, was ordained, and came back as a priest to Venezuela to replace Dr. Moles.

I recall the first time we requested to see Constitutions, which, according to instructions from Rome, the regional advisory had the right to consult, he asked sarcastically: "Why do you want the Constitutions, if you don't understand Latin?"

I assured him, as was indeed the case, that several among us knew Latin well. He finally brought us the book, and I had to sign a receipt saying we could keep it for three days. In fact, we were checking the Constitutions in order to query Rome as to whether numerary women could wear short sleeves.

We prepared the regional government sessions carefully ahead of time. Each assessor had a copy of the written agenda. On this occasion, we considered the draft of the note to be sent to Rome. At first, Father Salvat said it was stupid to ask Rome about short sleeves. Father Jose Maria Pena, however, told us to send it. The answer from Rome gave us permission to wear short sleeves. However, Father Salvat said: "But you won't wear them."

To my question of why not, he was unable to answer.

Father Pena was the regional priest secretary in Venezuela. That is to say, he was the priest in charge of the Women's Branch. He was from Zaragoza, Spain, and came to Venezuela as part of the group that arrived to found Opus Dei. He, too, was a lawyer who never practiced law. He always tried to understand everybody and was incapable of having a confrontation with anyone. Very much the proselytizer, he treated us all with respect. Truly a man of God, he died in Venezuela a few years ago.

The first Venezuelan female oblate vocation, or associate according to the later designation, was Trina Gordils, a first-class attorney, who lived very close to Casavieja and became a good friend. I spent a good deal of time with her. She assured me that she might have become a Communist because of the love that Communism claims to have for the poor, but that when she read the gospel seriously, she realized that Christ was the one who really loved the weak and oppressed. Endowed with a delightful sense of humor, Trina was profoundly contemplative and applied the spirit of prayer in her own way and lived the presence of God with joy and simplicity. She was an associate for several years, and her apostolic endeavors brought Berta Elena Sanglade to Opus Dei.

Trina had a beautiful face and joyful, mocking green eyes, which always seemed to laugh at you. Though she suffered from asthma, she was optimistic, good-humored, and occasionally sarcastic. She was well traveled and mastered languages easily. In conversation, she made us exercise our minds in a pleasant game trying to catch her subtleties.

Trina was a good person and a meticulous lawyer who did a great deal of legal work for Opus Dei. One task for which I am personally very grateful was her efficient, quick handling of my application for Venezuelan citizenship. I well remember that when the decree of our citizenship had appeared in the Boletin Oficial de la Nacion, and we had received our brand-new Venezuelan passports, Trina checked them and handed them over, remarking with her usual humor: "Now, my ladies, you are legally authorized to criticize the Venezuelan government."

After several years of being the first associate she informed me that she was leaving Opus Dei to become a Carmelite nun. She had contacted the recently founded Carmelite convent, being attracted to contemplative life. I fought hard to convince her not to leave, but the moment came when I realized that her wish to leave was genuine. She had made the oblation (temporary vows) as an associate and now needed a dispensation of her vows from the Father. [3] Trina did not share our affection for the Father. She said that we frequently put the Father before God and repeated with her habitual frankness that rather than saying "The Father says this" or "The Father says that" or "The Father likes things thus," we ought to say the same, substituting the name of Christ for that of the Father.

My friendship with Trina continued after she went to Carmel. She wrote a beautiful letter to me when I left Opus Dei. I always visited her at the convent when I went to Caracas, something that will not happen again, because God took her in 1991. The memory remains of her contemplative spirit, her sincere and profound friendship, her affection, and her good humor. The last time I visited her and I took some pictures, she alluded to the fact that one of her eyes had remained closed as a result of her recent illness. "Please, my dear, take a picture, where the droopy eyelid doesn't show."

When the conversation became serious, she commented on Monsignor Escriva's process of beatification: "My dear, before they [referring to Opus Dei priests] never worried about us at all. But since the Father died, all those Opus Dei priests buzz around Carmel, Father Roberto [Salvat] and the others, asking us to pray for Monsignor Escriva's beatification. They give us pictures and all the stuff they have about him." When I asked:

"Trina, do you really think the Father was a saint?" She answered: "No, dear! How could that man be a saint after all he did to you in Rome? The man upstairs [as Trina always called Our Lord] knows that if he makes it, it will be because of some human trick or because the Holy Spirit was on vacation."

All legal matters were put before her. She was the person who conceived and composed the statutes of the first nonprofit organization, which was called and continues to be called Asociacion de Arte y Ciencia (ASAC). Modesty apart, I must confess that the name was my idea. Both Trina and Alicia Alamo were of great technical help to me in the regional government.

With approval of the superiors in Rome and following Venezuelan law, I started a nonprofit corporation on September 7, 1961, the previously mentioned Asociacion de Arte y Ciencia or ASAC, a copy of whose constitutions I have managed to get for my files.

I have also obtained photocopies of pages four and five of ASAC's official minutes for November 19, 1962, which describe the opening of the Dairen Residence for women university students on El Bosque avenue, a major Caracas thoroughfare. I attended this meeting. On March 1, 1963, there is another set of ASAC minutes wherein the opening of another residence for female university students, Albariza in Maracaibo, is officially approved. I also attended that meeting.

I also obtained photocopies of pages 14 and 15 of that same book of meetings of the association, which was ordinarily kept in the archives of the Women's Branch regional government. These pages contain false information. ASAC president Eva Josefina Uzcategui says that I had submitted my resignation from ASAC as had Ana Maria Gibert. (We were both active members.) The minutes record that everyone present voted and unanimously accepted the resignations. The statement is false. My memory is quite reliable for this sort of detail. At that date in the fall of 1963, I was still regional directress for Venezuela, and I have no recollection that Ana Maria Gibert had offered her resignation and know absolutely that I had not given mine either verbally or in writing. The minutes with the signatures of a group of numeraries may have legal force, but I am certain that the account was fabricated, probably by request of Opus Dei superiors when I was no longer a member.

After reflection on this episode, I have concluded that in order to get me out of the association without stating the reasons, Opus Dei had to fabricate a date well before my departure, when I was still a member of the Work.

Opus Dei policy is to treat anyone who leaves her vocation or is dismissed as a nonperson, just as might occur in the case of someone purged under a Communist regime. So, in response to inquiries whether from the Vatican or from government officials, the ex-member might as well never have existed, as I will show toward the end of this book.

There is a rule that when superiors leave their usual residence for a short or long trip, they must sign several blank sheets of paper. I recall that before going to Rome the second time I left at least six blank sheets signed.

In the light of various events noted in this book, one of the questions that I still ponder is why Opus Dei has such fear that if a letter is misplaced, someone may discover its content. Why does concern for discretion turn into secretiveness, as shown by the codes to send reports? There is always the undercurrent of fear of being discovered, especially incongruent that an institution which describes itself as "transparent" should have such fears or concerns. Would a mother who discovered that her child takes drugs and wished to inform another child who lives far away, use a system of notes in code? The sorrow of that mother would simply be a motive of compassion, should someone open her letter by mistake.

This preoccupation with secrecy makes me think that affection is missing in Opus Dei. Which is more important to its leaders -- sorrow for the faults committed by its members or fear that other people may know them?

This same consideration applies in regard to those who cease to belong to the Work. Opus Dei erases them from both its present and its past. It gives orders to those still inside to not speak about those who left. As far as I know, there are no statistics in Opus Dei about the number of men and women, who have ceased to belong to the Work. There are only figures about the total membership claimed, with rough percentages of kinds of members. They never indicate precisely how many members are numeraries, how many priests, how many supernumeraries, and how many cooperators, though the latter are not legally members of the prelature.

On December 6, 1969, when I was no longer a member of Opus Dei, the superiors modified the ASAC statutes, which practically copy the first one written by Trina Gordils. The visible heads became two supernumeraries and an associate, and as members of the executive committee, the same persons as before.

All Opus Dei pamphlets in Venezuela continue to describe at present the prelature's activities as carried out by this Association of Art and Science.
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Part 3 of 4

Nonprofit Organizations

The first step that Opus Dei takes on arrival in a country is to incorporate a nonprofit cultural association. Opus Dei launches all its apostolic projects from these platforms. They allow Opus Dei to operate more or less unnoticed, give it nontaxable status, and are useful in seeking economic assistance. The board of directors of those associations are ordinarily numeraries chosen by the superiors in agreement with the counselor for the country and the central advisory. Once a corporation is established, it is left to the regional superiors to decide whether a particular numerary will resign from the board of directors or continue a member. Hence, the nonprofit organizations are legal tools that Opus Dei uses for its own convenience in all countries where it operates. In the United States, Opus Dei has a nonprofit organization on the East Coast and another on the West Coast. The latter is incorporated as the Association for Educational Development (California) under the number D-5381860. As of December 31, 1994 the address given by Opus Dei as the legal headquarters of this association is 765 14th Avenue, Apartment 6, San Francisco, California, 94118. Its chief financial officer, Mark Bauer, declared net assets in the amount of $3,546,056 of which $800,289 has been given by donors, a list of which is stated as "confidential information, not open to public inspection," and land, buildings, and material worth $6,554,466. Although it establishes nonprofit organizations for public consumption, Opus Dei manipulates these legal tools to its own advantage and profit. Some observations are useful here:

a) On the West Coast of the United States the auxiliary corporation Association for Educational Development is common to Opus Dei men and women, contrary to Opus Dei's own policy which proclaims: "Men and women are like two different works," [4] in agreement with its Constitutions. In the year ending December 1994 the tax report of this Association, dated July 13, 1995, does not mention the list of donors as done in previous years. By contrast on the list of donors, presented to the State of California on May 12, 1992, appears Janie Pansini, 2580 Chesnut Street, San Francisco, CA. (This is the address of the Opus Dei women's house in San Francisco.) According to this record, Ms. Pansini makes a yearly contribution of $18,815. This is odd, because the Opus Dei commitment of poverty does not allow numeraries to make any kind of presents to anyone, whether or not they are members of auxiliary societies of Opus Dei. The words of the Founder are clear: "Our apostolate is the apostolate of 'not giving.' It may be, most probably, that Ms. Pansini works for this nonprofit organization, which for income tax purposes (although it is not listed as such) treats her work as a donation. At any rate, the matter is unclear.

b) In the list of donors to this corporation for 1992 were also included The Woodlawn Foundation (from Opus Dei in Chicago), The Clover Foundation (also related to Opus Dei), and The Association for Cultural Interchange (likewise connected with Opus Dei). In other words, funds are simply transferred among Opus Dei nonprofit associations. In the IRS 1994 official report, this information is also considered "confidential, not open to public inspection."

c) Among the directors of The Association for Cultural Development continued to be listed two well-known Opus Dei numeraries: Diane Jackson and Kathryn Kelly. The women numeraries work twenty hours a month and the compensation is zero. In the last IRS report, however, Kathryn Kelly received $9,240 a year for five hours work a week, i.e., under $40.00 an hour. It is interesting to note in this 1994 IRS report that on Schedule A (Form 990) they state as "0" the number of employees paid over $50,000 but on Number 26, Part II, page 2, they report as "salaries and wages" the amount of $91,698.00 which implies a monthly amount of $7,641.00 and for payroll taxes $12,337.00 ($1,028.00 a month). Since in Opus Dei nonprofit organizations there are no outside workers and the directors receive "0" income, who are the recipients of $91,698.00?

(d) The name of John G. Layter is also listed as a director of this association with an official address for the IRS 1993 report at 655 Levering Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90024. By way of background, Dr. John G. Layter, Adjunct Professor of the Department of Physics of the University of California, Riverside, on May 22, 1992, using the letterhead of the University of California, Riverside, wrote to the editor of the International Herald Tribune in Paris, assuring him that I had never been a secretary to Monsignor Escriva in Rome. On being so informed by the International Herald Tribune, I personally phoned Dr. Layter and asked him whether he had met me, and, of course, he said no. But, he insisted, he had been told by Opus Dei superiors that I had never been Monsignor Escriva's secretary because that "would have implied that Monsignor Escriva was alone in a room with a woman and that never happened." I explained to Dr. Layter that on more than one occasion, when Monsignor Escriva asked either Maria Luisa Moreno de Vega or me to get some thing or other we needed for our work, one of us had been alone for a few minutes with Monsignor Escriva. I also had to remind Dr. Layter that it is not usual in the United States to write on university stationery on a topic related to religion and much less to lie about an employee of the same university, as this was my case. Quite curiously as an Adjunct Professor of the University of California, Professor Layter's official address is 600 Central Avenue, Apartment 270, Riverside, CA 92507, quite a different address from the one reported to the IRS in San Francisco.

Although there is freedom of currency exchange in the United States, and it is legal to conduct financial operations through foreign banks, it is interesting how this Opus Dei auxiliary operation is set up. Legally established in California, it does all its banking, including loans and mortgages in Switzerland at the Limmat-Stiftung, Patronat Rhein in Zurich about which Mr. Klaus Steigleder has written in detail [5] and most probably another style of Opus Dei auxiliary corporation. No doubt it has a very close relationship with Opus Dei's operations in Switzerland since they lent to the Opus Dei association in California, on October 29, 1981, for "general operating purposes" a twenty year unsecured loan of $210,000 at one percent interest. All the dealings of Opus Dei with financial institutions are totally unknown to the majority of Opus Dei numeraries, even to professionals such as Ana Sastre, a medical doctor, who made a sad statement, "in defense of the Father," in saying that "Calvinism was born in Switzerland and it burned more people than the Inquisition. Switzerland is a beautiful country with all the money in the world, especially undeclared monies." [6]

The Credit Andorra, closely tied to Opus Dei, also lent money to the California association in 1989; another uninsured loan payable in 2004. The Association for Educational Development received several personal loans, one of them from Dr. John G. Layter's deceased mother to whom he was the sole heir. Other loans came, also uninsured, almost yearly since 1981, from Federico Vallet in amounts ranging from $5,000 to $17,000 "for general operating purposes" at 7 percent interest, payable on demand, and in December 1994 totalling $75,000. A loan from Elisa Herrera in the amount of $35,000 is also uninsured. A curious peculiarity for all these loans is that they are not only "uninsured," but all were received in "cash," which leads you think that all these persons have close connections to Opus Dei.


Opus Dei recruits young people from schools, all kinds of clubs, centers for extra-curricular activities, and university residences. These centers serve a purpose within their communities, but for Opus Dei they are places to recruit young men and women, adults, servants, workers, and diocesan priests.

The Opus Dei system of recruiting young people is almost identical to the recruitment of members to a sect. Within the church, Opus Dei is what one might call a Catholic sect.

Some thirty years ago Monsignor Escriva explained to the numeraries in the central advisory in Rome that just as religious congregations had so-called apostolic schools, from which they derived a good number of vocations, so too, Opus Dei ought to begin a similar apostolate, but without calling them "apostolic schools," since Opus Dei's "secularity" prohibited use of religious terminology. The apostolate would be directed to very young girls, "aspirants" was Monsignor Escriva's exact term. He was convinced that many vocations would come to Opus Dei from this contact with very young girls, especially numerary vocations.

Accordingly, in Venezuela we adopted the American term juniors and began to work with young girls. The category included students between the ages of 12 and 14. The term juniors was approved by the Opus Dei superiors in Rome and adopted by many other houses of the Work in different countries to distinguish this particular apostolate with young people. Until very recently, however, if one of these girls wished to enter Opus Dei, she could become an aspirant officially at fourteen-and-a-half years, although she was allowed to write a letter to the regional vicar at fourteen. An actual case of how Monsignor Escriva encouraged the idea of doing proselytism with girls of this age group is that of Alida Franceschi in Venezuela. The daughter of a supernumerary woman, Alida was asked to become an aspirant at fourteen. This child was also the niece of a female numerary physician of the same name. During Monsignor Escriva's last visit to Venezuela months before she reached fourteen-and-a-half-years, the regional superiors invited her to participate in a get-together with the Father, officially limited to numeraries. The superiors were convinced that meeting Monsignor Escriva would give this girl the decisive push to become a numerary. That indeed happened shortly thereafter.

An excellent example of this policy is shown in the life of the current Opus Dei prelate, Javier Echevarria. Born in 1932, he became an Opus Dei numerary in 1948, at age sixteen. Two years later he was sent to Rome. [7]

These youngsters receive a gentle, slow, subtle indoctrination. They are invited to go to an Opus Dei house with a group of their schoolmates or alone, especially on Saturdays, when there are no classes in schools. They are included in all kinds of clubs, whose official literature frequently does not say that the club belongs to Opus Dei, though it may indicate that the spiritual direction is entrusted to Opus Dei or to priests of Opus Dei. According to the interests of different age levels, there are excursions, weekend trips, spiritual retreats, get-togethers, classes in cooking, art, languages, decoration, and computers: anything that may interest girls in these age groups.

There is a well organized system to guide girls of this age group to vocations as Opus Dei numeraries. At fourteen, a girl can be admitted to Opus Dei as an "aspirant" without her parents knowing it. A written request must be submitted in a letter directed to the regional vicar (formerly counselor). The girl gives the letter to the numerary who has been acting as her spiritual older sister or to the director of the Opus Dei house she frequents. During Monsignor Escriva's lifetime this letter was directed to him. Although the request does not entail a legal obligation and the candidate is free to leave, leaving, however, would submit the girl to intense psychological pressure by her sponsor/numerary and/or the director of the house. When a girl turns 16 years old, if she still wishes to be an Opus Dei numerary, she must write another letter, this time directed to the prelate (Father). They may tell her that she need not write a new letter, but renew the one she wrote at fourteen-and-a-half. For legal purposes of incorporation, what frequently counts in Opus Dei is the time that has elapsed since she wrote her first letter requesting to become an aspirant.

As of this writing, the policy seems to have evolved as follows: at age 16, following the procedures just explained and without notifying her parents, a girl can write a letter to the regional vicar asking to be accepted as an Opus Dei aspirant. Six months later she can receive permission to go through the official Opus Dei admission. A year later, she can receive permission to make the oblation (temporary vows), the first commitment to Opus Dei.

In the English-speaking world, this practice of proselytism with young girls led to a serious controversy to the point that it prompted Cardinal Basil Hume of Westminster to write a strong note setting down rules to be followed in his diocese. This document is probably harsher than any from the hierarchy regarding Opus Dei. His Eminence had the kindness at the time to send me a copy of his note.

Who are candidates for Opus Dei numeraries? Who are the women who possess the requisite qualities?

The answer is: cheerful happy girls belonging to well-known families, not necessarily rich, but well-off; girls without personal problems; healthy, responsible, idealistic, generous, capable of sacrifice for a higher good; if possible, these virtues should be rounded out by a sound family financial situation. Opus Dei considers that by having members from socially prominent backgrounds, it can reach out to many new places and attract more people.

Persons in poor health or with physical defects are encouraged to become associates, not numeraries. Also ineligible to become numeraries under Opus Dei's Constitutions are those persons who have belonged to a secular institute. [8] They may be considered as candidates to become associates or supernumeraries according to their individual situations. These are the rules of the game that the numeraries in charge of the work of St. Rafael must follow.

Although it is not explicitly stated as a criterion of selection, in practice a very ugly girl will scarcely be considered to become a numerary.

As I mentioned at the beginning of the present work, there is an Instruccion de San Rafael written by Monsignor Escriva regarding apostolate and proselytism. This is one of the documents considered ad usum nostrorum (for use of members only), which we printed at the press in Rome when I was there and which provided frequent occasion for speaking to Monsignor Escriva.


"One of the greatest differences between Opus Dei and religious congregations," Monsignor Escriva repeated for many years, "is that we will never have schools."

However, Opus Dei opened its first school, Gaztelueta, for boys, in Las Arenas, near Bilbao, Spain, in 1951. Monsignor Escriva declared: "Gaztelueta is the only exception we will make."

One must remember that children are like clay that Opus Dei molds according to its system. These children begin in kindergarten and continue step by step till they reach the university.

Obviously, my direct observations refer to the Opus Dei Women's Branch. From the time a little girl is accepted as a pupil in an Opus Dei school, Opus Dei will always follow her steps through the different levels of her education, regardless of what country she lives in or moves to. Her name will remain in Opus Dei archives forever. Even if she never becomes part of Opus Dei, the members of the Work will always try to get her to help in some way, whether as a cooperator or with money, donations, or introductions and recommendations. There will always be something that they can request from that alumna.

Opus Dei schools are the springboard for future recruitment. Officially proselytism is forbidden in these schools; what is not forbidden is the creation of an environment that strongly encourages vocations. The tutors will never speak directly about vocation to the pupils in their charge, but, since they are Catholic schools, the tutors will underline the necessity of having a spiritual director. The chaplain at Opus Dei schools is always a priest of the Work. In addition, the girls are encouraged to get involved at centers for extracurricular activities, which are also directed by Opus Dei. In such centers the student who is already a member tries to recruit her peers.

Opus Dei girls' schools function within the framework of the cultural organizations. They can basically be divided into two kinds:

A) Schools exclusively directed by Opus Dei members as a cooperative work.

B) Schools controlled by Opus Dei. They are not officially Opus Dei schools and are staffed by persons who may or may not be members of the Work. They used to be called "common works." In the Spanish magazine Tiempo, April 11, 1988, Luis Reyes published an article about the schools that Opus Dei controls in Spain. The rule is that these are single-sex schools except at the kindergarten level.

Opus Dei also operates schools in the United States such as The Heights (for boys), located in Potomac, Maryland, Oak Crest (for girls) in Washington, D.C., the Montrose School (for girls) in Boston, The Willows (for girls) and Northridge Prep (for boys), both in Chicago. All Opus Dei schools operate under the same guidance from Opus Dei superiors.

A Venezuelan example of such an institution is the Los Campitos school for girls in a residential neighborhood in Caracas. The board of trustees of the school usually consists of five members who are obliged to implement the policies set by the Ministry of Education of Venezuela. The members of the board of directors are Opus Dei numeraries, although exceptionally there may be some associates or supernumeraries. The schools' spirituality reflects the system and doctrinal emphasis of the Opus Dei prelature. Some teachers are numeraries, but the board of trustees may hire others who do not belong to the Work.

Los Campitos is well equipped in its laboratories and athletic facilities. The class size is ordinarily 30 pupils. Pascuita Basalo, a well-known ballet teacher, taught ballet there for many years, but the teaching of the fine arts is weak. The library is inadequate, and the selection of books, particularly in the humanities, is controlled by Opus Dei directors, a common practice at the Work's other educational endeavors. Even in the Opus Dei University of Navarre in Pamplona, books considered dangerous by Opus Dei authorities are removed from the university libraries and kept in "hell," as the students call the storeroom in the cellar of that institution.

Bookkeepers do not necessarily belong to Opus Dei, and janitors and cafeteria workers have no connection with the Work.

The cornerstone of Opus Dei schools, the faculty tutors are all numeraries whose mission is to serve as a bridge between the school and the girls' families. Each tutor has a small office where the pupils who have been assigned to her can come to talk whenever they want, consulting her on anything from the classwork to God. Each month the tutor speaks to the parents or guardians of her pupils about their behavior and progress in class.

As a numerary, the tutor has great authority over the pupil whom she guides and counsels and the pupils trust and obey the tutor blindly, assuming the tutor is her best friend within the school. This blind confidence gives the tutor vast influence over the pupil to touch on all kinds of topics, whether study, family, or spiritual life. The girls discuss apostolate with their tutors, and in agreement with them attend get-togethers, clubs, days of recollection, and other events organized by the centers of extracurricular activities that Opus Dei directs. Needless to say, before a pupil from Los Campitos arrives at one of these Opus Dei centers for the first time, its director has received a note from the tutor with detailed information on the pupil, including an indication about whether she can or cannot be a future numerary.

The tutor also urges pupils to participate in direct apostolate. The most popular variety is to visit villages in the Venezuelan hinterland in order to assist modest families by teaching catechism or reading and writing. The pupils do not give any kind of present to these families. If they bring clothing or some other thing to the villages, they sell it at very low prices. With the money, the pupils might buy Catechisms, which they later would distribute free.

This is one of the apostolates that the tutors usually recommends to the pupils to be carried out primarily during vacations. Hence, contact is maintained between tutor and pupil even when school is not in session.


It would be virtually impossible to speak of Opus Dei residences without first explaining the motive which impelled Monsignor Escriva to begin his intellectual apostolates.

Monsignor Escriva wanted to lead a reorientation of intellectual Spain, which had been dominated by anti-clerical liberals. He wanted to show that intellectuals can also be believers; he wanted to develop a group of intellectuals with a life of complete dedication to Christ. He wanted these new intellectuals to place the cross of Christ above all human activities.


Monsignor Escriva's ideal was good and ambitious, but there was a difficulty at its very root. He wanted to be the leader of this group, the only leader. As in any sect, the leader, the group's founder comes to believe that he is the only one able to communicate the message received from on high to the whole world. So, it was crucial for Monsignor Escriva to begin his work with a residence, converting young intellectuals into disciples of Christ; he had to mold a group under his direction to make a better world. He led the majority of the original members of Opus Dei to believe that everything that he started was divinely inspired. To only a few members he expressed a more intimate desire to wage a crusade against the Institucion Libre de Ensenanza, [9] founded in 1876 by Francisco Giner de los Rios, a bold defender of freedom in culture and the humanities, who never invoked freedom for political or sectarian reasons. [10] Curiously, Monsignor Escriva's crusade to neutralize the Institucion Libre de Ensenanza ended by imitating its projects. One of them was the Junta de Ampliacion de Estudios (Board for Advanced Research), which ran the still famous Pinar Residence. This residence was directed by a foundation whose president was Ramon Menendez-Pidal and included Jose Ortega y Gasset among its members. The residence was famous in Spain because it housed not only students from the different departments of the University of Madrid but also Spanish intellectuals, poets, scientists, philosophers -- many of them of world renown like Miguel de Unamuno, Federico Garcia Lorca, Federico de Onis, Juan Negrin, and Calandre. It also opened its doors to foreign scholars like Albert Einstein, H. G. Wells, Henri Bergson, Paul Valery, Marie Curie, Paul Claudel, Charles Edouard Jeanneret (Le Corbusier), Darius Milhaud, and Maurice Ravel.

Its multicultural atmosphere made the Pinar Residence a place for discussions and encounters of such intellectuals and artists. There is no doubt that Father Escriva wanted to create this type of residence, but it is impossible to equate Monsignor Escriva's goals and his religious crusade with the intellectual approach of Menendez Pidal and Ortega y Gasset. The defect and in a way the failure of the Opus Dei residences is that they never sheltered people of the same intellectual stature as the Pinar, quite possibly because Monsignor Escriva was not himself a thinker of such intellectual caliber.


The Board for Advanced Research created the Pegagogical Museum and the Casa del Nino (House of the Child) in Madrid and the College of Spain at the University of Paris.

General Franco's government abolished the Junta de Ampliacion de Estudios at the end of the Spanish Civil War. Jose Ibanez-Martin, the Franco regime's new Minister of National Education, founded the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas (High Council for Scientific Research) to replace it. This was lucky for Monsignor Escriva, who was at once able to place Opus Dei under the wing of this new institution. One of the first numeraries, Jose Maria Albareda, was a close friend of Ibanez-Martin and was appointed general secretary of the CSIC. The maneuver was extraordinarily discreet. Albareda and Escriva were able to place their first young intellectuals in key posts in the fledgling CSIC. They were able to begin their intellectual apostolate via the new high council. We next encounter the names of Rafael de Balbin as director of Arbor, the general cultural journal of the CSIC, and Raimundo Panikkar as the associate director of this journal. Interestingly, Panikkar vividly recalls the meeting that took place within Opus Dei and how he thought of the name Arbor, symbolizing the many branches of that organization: the seal of the tree of wisdom became and continues to be the official seal of the CSIC. Rafael Calvo Serer, Florentino Perez Embid, Tomas Alvira, and so forth, all of them original Opus Dei numeraries, were the leading intellectual figures of the new Spain. Named as architects for the new buildings were Miguel Fisac and Ricardo Vallespin, also from the first group of numeraries.

The Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas was Monsignor Escriva's most important tool in appealing to intellectuals. Opus Dei still has a strong control of it. Fairly recently, for instance, the Church of the Holy Spirit, which belonged to the CSIC, has been transferred to Opus Dei as one of its public churches. Grants for study abroad, especially at the College of Spain, as well as support in favor of people competing for professorial chairs at Spanish universities often emanated from someone at the CSIC.

This was the background of the situation which surprised me when I began to work at the Council for Scientific Research (CSIC) and discovered the proliferation of Opus Dei members within its walls.

The obsession to demonstrate Opus Dei secularity prohibits residences or corporative activities of the Work from ever being named after a saint. They usually bear the name of the street or neighborhood where the residence is located. Zurburan was the first Opus Dei women's residence in Madrid, because it was located at number 26 Zurburan street in Madrid. Although the location has changed to Victor de la Serna, 13, the name is the same.

Student residences are places where Opus Dei women primarily do proselytism with female university students between the ages of 18 to 24. When this activity started, residences had a capacity of about 30 students, and existing buildings were adapted for this purpose. Today, Opus Dei erects new buildings for both men and women, using its own architects if possible. About a year before the first Spanish edition of this book appeared, a Venezuelan numerary woman died in an accident during the construction of a new house which was finished recently in Caracas and which houses the regional advisory. The architects are obliged to follow instructions from the books edited in Rome called Construcciones (Constructions), some of which were prepared when I was director of the press.

What is life like in residences for female students? How does Opus Dei recruit women students? Opus Dei's female university residences are quite similar from one country to another. In them live girls from the various departments of the different universities that exist in a given city.

Opus Dei also operates residences and centers in the United States for young men and young women. Usually these residences are close to a university: Petawa Center for women and Leighton Studies Center for men are located in Milwaukee near Marquette University; on Follen Street in Cambridge near Harvard; the Woodlawn Residence for men in Chicago was Opus Dei's first in the U.S.; in Washington, D.C., there is also a women's residence. But I must clarify that in this country it is very difficult to detect if the students are regular students or also Opus Dei members. Usually when Opus Dei says "residence," it is a combination of both. A center is just a house for men or Opus Dei women, e.g., in San Francisco the Chestnut Center, located at 2580 Chestnut Street where all are Opus Dei members or the "Office of the University of Navarra" in Berkeley on College Avenue near the university. All follow the rules indicated from the superiors in Rome.

Directors of the residences are always numeraries who have some intellectual or professional ascendancy over other students. They already have their university degree or are in the final stages of obtaining it. The local council which directs the activities and the life of the residence according to Opus Dei regulations is made up of the directress and two other numeraries.

Another group of numeraries takes care of the residence administration; their responsibility is to maintain perfect material order in the house, from cleaning and doing the laundry to the preparation of meals and the bookkeeping. Administration bookkeeping is independent from residence bookkeeping which falls to the secretary of the local council. In general, the administration is separate from the residence, but carries out the orders given in the residence leadership. Living quarters of the administration numeraries are completely separated from the house they are in charge of, although ordinarily in the same building. In addition, there are usually a number of servants within the administration, who may or may not belong to Opus Dei.

No one from the residence may enter the administration quarters, nor may the numeraries who live in the administration participate in the life of the residence or live with the residents. The regime is the same as that which is established for houses of men. Communication is conducted via the same sort of intercom, and is strictly limited to what concerns the running of the house.

Residents must observe the schedule of meals and must keep silence at night, which helps create an atmosphere of order, silence, and study that benefits the residents.

Mealtime is important in the residences. Behavior during meals is generally well-mannered. In the early years it was easy to maintain an intimate, family-like atmosphere during the meals, but this is more difficult now due to the much larger number of residents, particularly in the newly built residences. In addition, the self-service meals now set up in many Opus Dei residences does not really help. When there is no self-service, the residences require a much larger dining room, usually set up with tables for four to eight persons. Servants in uniform attend the tables. No conversation is permitted between residents and the servants.

The local council tries to watch the residents during the meals and never leave the dining room without the surveillance of some numerary, whether a member of the local council or a numerary not officially identified as such to the residents. Such numeraries come to live at the residence for family reasons and can mix and pass unnoticed among the other residents, serving the local council as informers.

Bedrooms may be single or triple, but never double to avoid the slightest possibility of lesbian relationships.

Residents are invited to weekly study circles directed by one of the members of the local council. These circles are a sort of spiritual lecture with encouragement to reflect on one's spiritual life. Girls of St. Raphael who are students may invite friends to these circles.

It is recommended in the residences that the rosary be prayed in family, that is, in the oratory, and all residents must attend.

An Opus Dei priest says daily Mass in the residence. He usually arrives fifteen minutes ahead of time so that anyone, resident or not, can go to confession. Mass is not compulsory for the residents. The regional vicar of each country selects the priests of the Work who will attend activities of the Women's Branch. Two types of Opus Dei priest are generally chosen for a women's residence: first, a youngish man, not necessarily handsome but sufficiently charming to counsel a girl who has a vocational crisis; second, the paternal priest, perhaps 40 to 50 years old, trustworthy, with the prestige of having worked in another country, or perhaps of having had a successful professional career that he had to leave when he became an Opus Dei priest.

No woman of any age may discuss spiritual matters with Opus Die priests outside the confessional. If, for any reason, a priest has to speak to a woman in a parlor, the door must remain wide open. This is an example of the constant sexual obsession within Opus Dei.

Residences also organize conferences or lecture series usually given by a college professor or someone prominent in her or his profession, business, or finance. Lecturers need not be Opus Dei members, but most probably are friends or acquaintances of a supernumerary or cooperator. It may happen that the lecturer does not know about Opus Dei and the invitation is a way of bringing him or her closer to the Work. The supernumeraries and cooperators are very helpful in this type of activity. Sometimes a group of supernumeraries are assigned to help an Opus Dei residence by organizing some activity during the academic year, obviously in concert with the local council.

What could be called "an academic group" headed by an associate may exist in the residence in order to collaborate actively in its apostolic life and to lighten the burden of the local council.

After the oratory, the most important room in an Opus Dei residence is the study hall. The study rooms of the early years of Opus Dei had only a few tables and chairs. The present rooms are very comfortable, quiet, well-lit, and encourage serious work. In the newest Opus Dei residences, the study hall is equipped with carrells as in a college library. Even architectural students have enough space to prepare their projects comfortably. The newest Opus Dei residences are those in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the men's residence Monteavila in Caracas, Venezuela, and the women's residence Albariza in Maracaibo, Venezuela.


Opus Dei also has a system of recruiting girls who do not live in a residence. A numerary resident will invite a classmate or even a girl from a different university department to study at the residence. The newcomer is apt to be impressed by the comfortable, pleasant atmosphere of the residence and the seriousness with which people study there. During a break the newcomer will be invited to have tea, coffee, or a sandwich and then tactfully shown where she can leave the money to cover the cost of what she has consumed.

The next step is to invite the newcomer to attend a talk by the priest in the chapel the following Saturday. At this point the prospective candidate will be informed in detail about the accomplishments of the priest whom she will hear speak, as well as his ability to understand university students.

The priest will have been previously informed, of course, that this student will attend his meditation, so that he may orient what he says toward her possible vocation. This will be the point of departure for a campaign to win over the newcomer. The numerary resident student who brought her to the residence will be extremely attentive during the school week at the university. This numerary will never reveal her membership in Opus Dei until the moment that the newcomer is experiencing a vocational crisis. Then the numerary will announce her membership in Opus Dei and help the newcomer decide to take the step of joining.


There is a usual pattern for recruiting those living in Opus Dei residences: the local council assigns each numerary, including those not officially known as such, a certain number of residents to be "treated." To treat (tratar) means to befriend and get to know thoroughly. Opus Dei numeraries who live in the residence pray and do all kinds of mortification each day as they try to win the confidence of the girls assigned to them. Once they accomplish this, recruitment begins by posing the vocation to Opus Dei as a problem of generosity, just as I explained in my own case.

In Opus Dei residences, there are daily get-togethers, usually after supper or lunch depending on the customs of the country. These get-togethers provide the numeraries who live in the residence an opportunity to befriend those to whom they have been assigned.


Yes, there are informers in Opus Dei's female student residences. They are certainly not called that, but that, in fact, is what they are.

Opus Dei numerary students who live in the residence without being identified as such fulfill this function. They help the local council keep track of what is going on and which residents are potential new numeraries. Other residents confide in them, feeling free to bring up any subject whether related to life in the residence or not. The informers are usually recent vocations whose parents are unaware of their membership in Opus Dei. The superiors have instructed them not to inform their parents about their membership, thus making sure that the families will pay the expenses at the residence where they go to college.

When I was in Venezuela these things happened, and I cannot deny that I knew and approved. The very sad fact is that I considered it justified by the thirst for proselytism. Nor can it be maintained that the central advisory was unaware of these practices, because many of the advisors lived in residences as numeraries or were directresses in countries where such practices were followed. What I ask myself once more is whether these are not the things that outsiders intuitively grasp, without knowing them fully, and which cause rejection or doubt about Opus Dei's modus operandi.

Although Opus Dei emphatically proclaims to the families of residents and everybody else that there is sincerity and openness in its residences, the truth is that nothing is spontaneous in the ordinary life of an Opus Dei residence of university women or in the relations between the local council and the individual resident. Every step has been calculated and planned with the exclusive goal of recruiting the best residents as Opus Dei numeraries. Those residents who, in the opinion of Opus Dei superiors, do not possess the requisites to be numeraries will be pushed toward the vocation of associate or supernumerary. In the worst case, they are invited to become cooperators.


"Marriage is for the rank and file, not for the officers of Christ's army. For, unlike food, which is necessary for each individual, procreation is necessary only for the species, and many individuals can dispense with it.

"A desire to have children? We shall leave children -- many children -- and a lasting trail of light if we sacrifice the selfishness of the flesh" (Jose Marla Escriva, The Way, no. 28). [11] It is helpful to recall that the numeraries who do proselytism keep in mind the point about marriage.

Opus Dei's activities with young people in schools, university residences, and specialized schools, which I have outlined above, respond to a pattern which Opus Dei women follow in countries where the prelature is well established, with slight variations given the inevitable differences from country to country.

My work in Venezuela moved along lines marked by Opus Dei superiors. The Women's Branch flourished because the numeraries were from well-known families, and in the majority first-class professionals.

Father Roberto Salvat, the counselor, insisted that we try to recruit very young girls. He believed it was better for a girl "to come to Opus Dei without the slightest experience," meaning sexual experience. I was quite opposed to such young vocations, because the lack of normal contact with boys caused fantasies that complicated matters in the long run, since the girls tended to develop either exaggerated scrupulosity or a fanaticism leading them later on to harsh judgments about their sisters. I remember cases of numeraries who awakened me in the middle of the night with a sexual scruple as to whether they had let their imagination wander into improperly watching the priest celebrate Mass or because on meeting the son or daughter of a supernumerary they regretted giving up the chance of motherhood. Opus Dei instructions were that supernumeraries should never bring their children to houses of numeraries.

The principle I drew from my own observations was that the women who had had a normal social life dealing with young men were more realistic about what they were leaving when they entered Opus Dei. More than once I was morally obliged to enlighten young girls who were about to take their vows: they knew something about poverty and obedience, but were unclear about what they were giving up when they took the vow of chastity. Quite a few numeraries, discussing chastity, told me that they regretted never having kissed a man. Some who had joined Opus Dei at a very young age reacted to Monsignor Escriva's words often repeated in meditations: "We have to love Jesus Christ with our heart of flesh," unleashing their repressed sexuality as they kissed the wooden cross in the oratory. That, in my judgment, was more dangerous than having had normal relationship with a young man.
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Part 4 of 4

Centers of Internal Studies

The time came when it became clear that the formation we received in Opus Dei was quite insufficient. Everything was based on the Catechism of the Work during the periods of formation, confession, the weekly talk with the priest (neither of which took longer than five minutes), the confidence, of course, and each individual member's interior life of prayer, mortification, and so on.

The members of regional advisory put on the agenda the matter of actually beginning the internal studies set out in our Constitutions and the possibility of creating a center of studies for new vocations.

Father Roberto Salvat had reservations about both ideas but said that he would not object to our beginning the internal studies of philosophy. (One must remember that the counselor has not only a vote but a veto in the Women's Branch government.)

We figured out how long the courses would last on the basis of the hours required for each subject in the syllabi of internal studies, and we chose to start with introductions to philosophy and cosmology. By then the first three Venezuelan Opus Dei priests had returned from the Roman College of the Holy Cross: Father Francisco de Guruceaga, who was subsequently a bishop, and who left Opus Dei but not the priesthood, Father Alberto Jose Genty, who was a Venezuelan born in Trinidad, and Father Adolfo Bueno, also a Venezuelan although a member of a Colombian family. This made it possible for the counselor to name one of them, Father Alberto Jose Genty, our cosmology professor. The counselor decided to give the introduction to philosophy himself. Thus, our internal studies were launched in Venezuela. Afterwards, Father Alberto Jose Genty was our professor in almost all the philosophy courses except for ethics and epistemology, which were given jointly by the counselor and Father Antonio Torella, the ordinary visitor (or missus) of the Men's Branch.

The classes called for long hours of study which we undertook diligently. The reading material was restricted by order from Rome; even when the church abolished the Index of Forbidden Books, in Opus Dei we could only read those authorized by the Work's internal censorship. For instance, one author who was considered "too mystical" for our spirit was St. John of the Cross.

Since we had few books to study, we tried to take abundant class notes. Different groups were formed according to the obligations of each one of us so that we could pursue our internal studies in a coordinated fashion. Basically, my group consisted of those who lived in Casavieja. We were always given serious, written examinations by the course instructor and formal records were kept in the archives, as I mentioned earlier.

For Opus Dei men, the internal studies consisted of two years of philosophy and four of theology, organized by semesters. The Women's Branch had two years of philosophy and two years of theology. I do not know whether nowadays four years of theology are required. The philosophical subjects were introduction to philosophy, cosmology, logic, ethics, psychology, history of philosophy (two full years), epistemology, natural theology, and metaphysics.

Even though ecumenism was already a burning issue, there was no discussion of world religions. Neither Judaism nor Islam, much less Hinduism were presented. We were told that Teilhard de Chardin was unsound, but given only skimpy information. When Christian Science was discussed we were told that we could not waste time on such "unimportant movements." Years later, I lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts, when I arrived in the United States. The first day I visited Boston, on a bright Sunday morning, my guide, who was a Catholic, said: "Let's begin at the beginning." He took me to visit the Christian Science Mother Church. Seeing that building with its surrounding complex, I remembered how I had once been told that "Christian Science was unimportant." Philosophy was Thomism, which meant that Gilson and Manser had the pride of place. I used to take Manser's book on the plane on my visits to Maracaibo. Father Joaquin Madoz, who sometimes came on the same flight, used to say he had never seen a book with more flying time.

Toward the end of 1961 or perhaps in early 1962, the superiors began to emphasize the study of Latin. It began years later in the Women's Branch, possibly after 1966. Today it is an obligatory subject, "refreshed" during the periods of formation.

The arrival of the Venezuelan priests was a great help in our work, because people felt more attuned to them spiritually.

Those of us who were superiors always dealt with the priests through the ecclesiastical assistants and in the weekly sessions of the regional government. Government problems were never discussed in the confessional with any priest.

Father Rodrigo, a Spaniard who was in Caracas when I arrived, was reassigned to Spain, which provoked some commotion in the work of St. Raphael, but with the arrival of Father Joaquin Madoz, who came from Ecuador, where he had begun the foundation and served as counselor, both the work of St. Raphael and that of St. Gabriel (with married women) were strengthened. Father Joaquin Madoz was a deeply spiritual man, but relaxed and friendly; he was very understanding with married women for whom he always showed great respect. The supernumeraries and a number of women who were their friends came to confession at Casavieja.

Father Alberto Jose Genty was assigned to the work of St. Raphael and was quite popular. He was spiritual director to many young women, and quite a few requested admission to Opus Dei. He also worked in a very unassuming way with the servants who lived in Etame and in the new house. These girls, who were from modest families, had great esteem for him and knew that he liked them.

When Father Joaquin Madoz was posted to Spain, many of the married women were quite upset. They did not want to change their confessor and complained that "they take away all the good ones." Since supernumeraries have to obey in spiritual matters, they were instructed to go to confession with Father Francisco de Guruceaga or with Father Jose Maria Pena. Some of the cooperators were not so easy to convince. Among them was a dear friend, Mrs. Ana Teresa Rodriguez de Sosa, whom I managed to convince to go to confession with the counselor, Father Roberto Salvat, whose reassignment outside of Venezuela was not foreseeable.

Mrs. de Sosa was a beautiful woman, wealthy with considerable style. Much older than me, she came from a background that had conditioned her to look down on people of color, although she was able to acknowledge their merits in many cases. I used to criticize her strongly but affectionately, when she would remark deprecatingly about someone that she or he was "colored or "inky" (tintica). I was able to convince her that racism is unchristian. She accepted my criticism very well. We were good friends and valued each other. One of the things that I most admired was her direct, sincere approach. She knew that I behaved toward her in the same way.

She was my closest contact among the married women; I used to spend my weekly outing with her, and sometimes also the monthly excursion. Her chauffeur would come to take me to her house, or we would go for a drive along the coast to Caraballeda, from where you had a magnificent view of the Caribbean.

I learned a great deal about Venezuela and its families from Ana Teresa. All I could offer in return was an account of the house in Rome, the Father, new vocations, apostolic plans in Venezuela. I encouraged her to express her reactions to these topics. She had been in Rome. She knew the house and had met Monsignor Escriva. She realized it was important to know him, but was not a fanatic admirer of Monsignor Escriva.

To sustain its programs, Opus Dei asked many people in Venezuela for money. When the subject came up at regional meetings, the counselor insisted that I try to get a gift from Mrs. de Sosa, which made me quite angry. Without my asking her, Mrs. de Sosa gave me no less than 30,000 bolivares each year for whatever was needed in our houses. Our friendship was genuine and I never took advantage of her for the Women's Branch. In contrast, the counselor, though he used to play tennis at her house and swim in her pool, behind her back referred to her as that" rich old woman." I was boiling inside, because Father Roberto Salvat and Father Antonio Torella used their relationship with Mrs. de Sosa to become the friends of her son, Julio Sosa Rodriguez. When Mrs. de Sosa died, she left the Opus Dei Men's Branch a piece of property, El Trapiche in Caracas. Through her son Julio the Men's Branch also obtained several other pieces of land.

I tried to inculcate the spirit of unity in the Women's Branch. When Hoppy Phelps, then very young, was going to marry Fernando Nestares, a former numerary, I brought her to our house. Hoppy was a Protestant and intended to get married in the Catholic church. Ana Maria Gibert prepared her for her conversion and baptism and she made her first communion in the oratory of our house. The Phelps family is prominent in Venezuela socially as well as in financial and scientific circles. The family presented us with a splendid silver service, which we sent to the central government in Rome.

After her marriage Hoppy used to come to our house occasionally and we considered her our friend. On one of the many occasions we had to solicit money, I was told to ask Hoppy for 10,000 bolivares. I was reluctant to do so, realizing that few newlyweds have any savings. Nevertheless, I was instructed that if she replied she had no money, I should suggest that she request it of her father. I did so, and on account of that Hoppy came less frequently to our house. Her husband went to see the counselor and told him never again to ask his wife for money.

When I left Opus Dei, I maintained my friendship with Hoppy and Fernando. Fernando unfortunately died a few years ago and Hoppy remarried. Our friendship continued. A few months before the Spanish edition of this book appeared, I had lunch with her in Madrid. That old request for money in Caracas came up. She told me that when her daughter was going to get married in Caracas, she asked Roberto Salvat if he would officiate as an old friend of Fernando. His answer was vague and he did not marry the couple. [12]

In times of financial crisis I have also sent women numeraries to seek funds. Several even asked for help from old fiances or young men they had known, who by that time had attained positions of importance. That obviously required a great effort.

There were two basic causes for the need of funds. On one hand, our contribution to support the Roman College of the Holy Cross and the Roman College of Santa Maria was no less than $600 a month. On top of that, we sent substantial sums of money each month "for the construction in Rome." On the other hand, the group of numeraries who held well-paid professional jobs was still small. Nowadays the finances of Opus Dei houses are well established. The scheme is based on the idea that each numerary should support herself. This does not mean that she handles the money she receives for her professional work; rather, when the house where she lives makes its annual budget, it counts on her income to pay for her maintenance and, if there is a surplus, to contribute to the house. For her part, the numerary must make a detailed monthly expense account and does not dispose of money freely on account of her commitment of poverty.

Another major project related to our fundraising efforts was the bazaar for which supernumeraries, cooperators, and their friends worked all year long. The big pre-Christmas sale was held on premises provided by Beatriz Roche's husband, Jose Antonio Imery.

Officially, the bazaar was held to benefit the servants' school in Etame, but the truth was that all the money was sent to Rome. The same thing occurred with other events such as raffles of automobiles.

In some other countries, including Venezuela, Opus Dei has schools for domestic servants. In the Los Campitos School in Caracas, as an extracurricular activity for the regular students, there is a school called Los Samanes. This school has a plan of studies approved by the Venezuelan Ministry of Education to allow adults to get a basic secondary education and obtain something roughly like the American high school equivalency diploma. A few of the servants in Opus Dei administrations come to these classes.

Los Samanes School has several centers. One of them is in Caracas and another in Maracaibo. The Caracas center is located in Resolana, which is the administration of Opus Dei's male student residence Monteavila, which is located on the main street of the El Cafetal area.

Resolana offers the servants a few academic classes, but most classes are practical, including taking care of centers of studies or students residences, in this case that of the Opus Dei men, who benefit by free work. Although these schools receive government subsidies and private contributions, their essential purpose is not to give the students job training, but to recruit girls between the ages of 12 and 15, and sometimes even younger, as Opus Dei auxiliaries (servants). They are generally the daughters of impoverished families, and the parents are happy that their daughters are going to school and allow them to go with Opus Dei numeraries, when the latter visit their village, usually under the auspices of the parish priest. Obviously Opus Dei gets what it wants served up on a silver platter: raw material that is rather easy to mold.

The girls are well treated, they live more comfortably than at home, and get to attend classes. The girls are not obligated to stay in Opus Dei houses. Since they are under age, if they want to go back to their parents, some numerary or associate must accompany them on their return trip. Another group of auxiliaries lives in Caracas in a house called Mayal, which is the administration connected to the Men's Branch center of studies, which is also the seat of Araya, the regional commission, that is the Men's Branch government.

One of the Opus Dei servants in Caracas had felt ill for a long time. The numeraries took Francisca, which was her name, to an Opus Dei physician, who gave her tranquilizers, claiming her malaise was psychosomatic. She still felt very sick, but instead of taking her to another doctor, they brought her back to the same physician who kept her so sedated that, on a visit, her mother found her in a pharmaceutically induced sleep.

One fine day Francisca said she wanted to leave Opus Dei. They took great pains to retain her, and practically forced her to stay. Finally, sick and fed-up, she got angry one day and went to the house where her mother had worked for more than thirty years. The lady of the house and Francisca's mother took her to a well-known doctor whose diagnosis was that Francisca had a large fibroma, plus appendicitis, and gall stones. The doctor said that Francisca needed an operation urgently.

When the doctor routinely asked about Francisca's medical insurance, she answered that she had none. The doctor asked where she had been working and she said that she had worked for many years in Opus Dei houses. The doctor could not believe that she had neither medical insurance nor social security. However, this is true not only of the auxiliaries but of all those numeraries who work in administrations.

When Francisca left Opus Dei, the superiors gave her 3000 bolivares. At the existing rate of exchange at that time (much devalued since my time) that was worth some $60. The cost of the operation was at least $3000. Finally, the family for whom Francisca's mother worked and Narka Salas, a former Opus Dei numerary, who had also left the Work recently, managed to negotiate with a number of medical institutions to obtain a lower rate. The family and Narka also got help for her during the period of convalescence.

After all this became public, Marisol Hidalgo, an Opus Dei numerary from Seville, has pursued Francisca to get her to join Opus Dei again in one capacity or other. Fortunately, Francisca is very level-headed and has told Opus Dei numeraries who have crossed her path and particularly Marisol Hidalgo the hard truth: Opus Dei does not have the spirit of charity and that despite their sanctity they are not at all worried about little people.

Francisca's case is not unique. Opus Dei has discharged servant numeraries after more than fifteen years of service without social security or medical insurance, leaving them virtually penniless, and with almost no possibility of finding employment.

The most they have done in certain cases has been to direct former auxiliaries to houses of supernumerary women, who did not treat them well either, so that they had to leave. I have been told, though I lack confirmation of the claim, that after the Spanish edition of my book, in Andalusia at least, Opus Dei is trying to enroll the servants in the Spanish social security system.

You must remember that I speak of an institution that proclaims its fidelity to the church and declares itself a pioneer in secularity, and used to harshly criticize nuns and friars because they were not concerned for persons as human beings. What I recount is one of the many things that you discover crossing the threshold of Opus Dei, sometimes from outside in, and in this case, from inside out.

To return to my experience in Venezuela, I continued my effort to adjust to the spirit of the Work in every way, according to the counselor's instructions. We spared no effort to upholster furniture and clean houses, and even gave the counselor's own house complete sets of valuable china, which had been given to us for the women's houses.

The counselor's demeanor in the sessions of the women's regional government was of more or less veiled contempt; he obviously believed that women were unintelligent or frivolous. This was apparent also in the way in which he spoke about people who belonged to the Work. He also showed class snobbery, saying for instance that a numerary like Teotiste Ortiz, who did not belong to the upper crust, but who was a very good person "should not belong to the Work." I remember that when Teotiste found out that I was going to Rome, she cried and said that she was afraid Eva Josefina Uzcategui and Father Roberto Salvat would send her back home. I denied it, and she repeated as she wept: "Maria del Carmen, they don't like me."

I tried to reassure her, but I later found out that they did send her home. She died a few years ago.

Eva Josefina Uzcategui strongly echoed the counselor's class and race prejudices. How often in meetings of the Women's Branch regional government, I heard Eva Josefina Uzcategui say tintico (inky, darky) to refer to someone pejoratively! The expression might be accompanied by a gesture: "You know, Father Robert. Here in Caracas they aren't anybody," referring to someone who was not socially prominent.

I can honestly say that at the end of the government sessions I felt churned up inside and tried to go to my room in silence. I also remember Elsa Anselmi telling me days later that she had to make an effort to not hit Eva Josefina during the meeting. Others said the same thing.

My lack of racial prejudice was not a merit, but I just never felt animosity against people of color. On the contrary, I found the color of their skin and grace of their movements lovely.

We opened the Albariza students residence in Maracaibo, after several years of regular visits to that city by Maria Margarita del Corral and myself. Maria Margarita became directress. Another member of the local council was a numerary who came from Spain, Amanda Lobo. A very important person in the house was Cecilia Mendoza. The people in Maracaibo were especially fond of Cecilia, who continued her profession as a laboratory analyst, while taking charge of the work with married women. People in Maracaibo adored her affectionate and lovely manner.

The residence in Maracaibo was a great success. Marilu Colmenares was the first person to request admission as a numerary. She died in Caracas after a number of years in Opus Dei.

The soul of Opus Dei's work in Maracaibo was Mana Betancourt. She became a supernumerary and was always as good as she was dedicated. I became a close friend of Mana and her husband Charles. I helped decorate their house, which they were remodeling. Both of them went to Rome, while I was there, to see the Father. She already knew she had only a few months to live. She had a virulent cancer. Opus Dei priests in Maracaibo were Father Francisco de Guruceaga
and after him, Father Adolfo Bueno.

From Caracas we also began periodic visits to Valencia and Barquisimeto, where the Opus Dei priests went frequently, because the men already had opened their first house in that city.

The growing number of vocations made the advisors realize that a center of studies for female numeraries was long overdue, but this provoked great arguments with the counselor. I never knew why he did not want us to begin this project, but, finally, after months of disagreement, he allowed us to send the proposal to Rome, where it was approved. The members of the regional advisory received the news of its approval with great joy.

For the center of studies we found a charming old house with a large garden at low rent in Los Chorros, a beautiful old suburb of Caracas. As required in Opus Dei, we submitted to Rome the proposed name for the house, "Urupagua." Urupagua is the name of a fruit from Falcon State, which is very sweet inside, although prickly on the outside. The name was approved.

Begona Elejalde and I devoted our best efforts to the center of studies. We considered it to be crucial for the formation of numeraries in the country, especially with a view to eventually being sent to the Roman College of Santa Maria. Mercedes Mujica was appointed directress of Urupagua.

The courses of scholastic philosophy already described could be pursued in orderly fashion in the center of studies. Father Genty knew the first students of the center of studies well, because he had been spiritual director of many of them.

Julia Martinez used to go to Valencia with me a couple of days every two weeks. At first we used to stay at the home of a lady who was a friend of the Guruceaga family. Subsequently, to have greater freedom of movement we opted to go to a hotel.

We used to speak with some of the women in the garden of the church while the others went to confession. Julia and I would pass through the confessional before the women arrived to get information about the people Father Genty had contacted and unite our efforts on behalf of proselytism. In truth, the Opus Dei priest is the one who guides the women numeraries when Opus Dei work begins in any city.

In Valencia, a very young girl named Maria Elena Rodriguez from Barquisimeto requested admission as an Opus Dei numerary. So, we attended to the married women and this numerary on our trips.

The ladies in Valencia began to donate sheets and table cloths. When that happened we would notify the priest by phone to collect the bag that Julia and I left in the garden of the men's house as we passed by.

1965 brought growth to Opus Dei in Venezuela and changes in the Women's Branch. Eva Josefina Uzcategui was appointed delegate of Venezuela in the central advisory. Reassignments of priests also took place. Father Alberto Jose Genty was posted to the Opus Dei men's house in Valencia. Father Jose Maria Pena, the regional priest secretary, was shifted to the job of regional spiritual director, and his old position was assigned to Father Jose Maria Felix, a recently ordained priest who had just arrived from Spain.

Father Felix was in his early thirties, of average height, blond with blue eyes. He was not friendly at all. He always had his head inclined and seemed ready to listen but not to understand. His attitude was servile toward the counselor and he was prejudiced against women, especially against me as regional directress. His last name occasioned the innocent joke, "Felix the Cat."

Father Felix scrutinized us as he spoke. It was as though he descended from Mt. Sinai holding the tablets of the law, as it were, especially, in what had to do with confessions. He contradicted everything we said.

The ecclesiastical assistants ordered a modification in the form of address to be used toward them. Instead of the Spanish "Don" with their first name, we would now say "Father" and their last name. The change pleased me because "Don" sounded completely out of place in Venezuela.

The new house of the men's regional government was located in La Castellana neighborhood. The house was called La Trocha. As a special deference, we assigned the only numerary servants we had to the counselor's house.

Venezuela began to export numeraries to other countries. We really gave the best we had in light of the needs of the country for which they were leaving. Marta Sepulveda, a Mexican numerary, who spent several years in Caracas, was the first to leave. She was sent to Uruguay. The next numerary went to the United States, when the house in Boston was opened. We sent Berta Elena Sanglade, who knew English fairly well, to the United States where she worked for many years and afterwards left Opus Dei forever. Maria Amparo, a Spanish girl, went to Brazil.

Monsignor Escriva also decided that the Opus Dei foundation in Santo Domingo should be launched from Venezuela. After Father Francisco de Guruceaga visited the Dominican Republic for several months, the counselor asked me to go to Santo Domingo with Elsa Anselmi and Eva Josefina Uzcategui -- a few months before she was named the Venezuelan delegate -- to explore the possibility of a new foundation of Opus Dei women in that nation.

I stressed repeatedly to the counselor that the political situation in the Caribbean looked very inauspicious and that the absence of diplomatic relations between Venezuela and Santo Domingo could easily involve us in a dangerous political situation. He totally disregarded my fears and considered them ridiculous.

So we went to Santo Domingo and the following day were immersed in the 1965 revolution. The airport was closed, and we had no way to leave the island. Venezuela had no diplomatic representative, so, although I no longer held a Spanish passport, I tried to contact the Spanish Embassy. To our surprise, the Spanish Ambassador had taken shelter at the Ambassador Hotel, where we were lodged. Then I called the United States Embassy to explain our plight. I was told that most probably we would be able to leave with the American civilian population, due to be evacuated in the next few days. I was instructed to submit an application for an American visa that very night at our hotel, where the American consul was to spend the entire night helping people in situations like ours. We were granted the visa. The following morning, leaving all our luggage behind and taking only documents and money, we arrived at the hotel lobby, which was packed with American families trying to leave the country. Following instructions shouted to the group, we went to the front of the hotel to wait for buses to take us to the harbor. Suddenly, we were caught in the middle of an intense crossfire between two armed groups. Our leader told us to lie flat on the ground and remain quiet. I remember Elsa Anselmi, who was quite courageous, asking me, "'Do you think we are going to be killed?" I replied, "Most probably, but let us hope God helps us." For about seven minutes the shooting continued, and at the first lull, we took a chance and reentered the hotel. After a couple of hours the buses arrived, but under instructions from the government of the Dominican Republic, they could not move faster than 20 miles per hour. On the way to the harbor, people in the streets shouted insults at the United States. When we finally arrived at the harbor, no ship was visible. It was so hot that everybody was thirsty, the children were crying, and young women were distraught about leaving their husbands. We were told that a warship would arrive in an hour but that women with children and elderly people would be taken by helicopter. The announcement had no sooner ended than a kind of hurricane burst over our heads, announcing the landing of several helicopters that carried off mothers with children, the handicapped, and the elderly people to a warship anchored on the high seas.

Finally the warship arrived and we climbed on board, showing our passports and visas, leaving Santo Domingo as refugees in a warship which took us to Puerto Rico. When we embarked we had not the slightest idea where we were heading. We only wanted to get away from that nightmare. The warship was prepared to shelter civilians. We discovered how thirsty and hungry we were when we were served apple juice and a piece of pie.

The next morning we were informed that we would arrive in Puerto Rico within a couple of hours. When we got to a hotel, we were so dirty that the receptionist asked us to pay in advance. Since we had lost our luggage, Elsa went out that afternoon to buy essentials for the three of us.

From Puerto Rico we sent cables to Venezuela, Rome, and our families as well. We returned to Venezuela two or three days later on the first available flight. On arrival at Maiquetia Airport in Caracas, Dr. Hector Font, a supernumerary was waiting and took us directly from the plane to an ambulance in order to escape the press and television, since we had become news as the only three Venezuelans caught in the revolution in Santo Domingo. This took place so quickly that we had no time to realize what was going on. The episode vividly illustrates the much vaunted Opus Dei "discretion." Despite the elaborate precautions, our names appeared often in the news during the following days.

In Caracas, not long afterwards, I went with Mrs. Laura Drew-Bear, a supernumerary, to thank the United States ambassador, Mr. Maurice Bernbaum, for his kindness in allowing us to join the American families escaping from Santo Domingo. While the ambassador's deputy, Mr. Sterling Cottrel, was talking to us, we learned that there was a demonstration against the United States at the Embassy gates. A shot was fired at the ambassador's window. The deputy, instinctively realizing the danger, shouted "Hit the deck, ladies!" The bullets struck the wall just at head level where we were seated. We ended up under the coffee table unharmed. The ambassador, who was in the next room, came in to see us at once, and the formal visit changed into a friendly, informal one.

It is my understanding that the ambassador still keeps the bullets.

When we returned to Caracas, we were told that the counselor had proclaimed he was ready to take a plane to look for us in Santo Domingo. These events brought the Opus Dei women's foundation in Santo Domingo to a halt.

The major news of the year after the trip to Santo Domingo was the appointment of Eva Josefina as delegate to Venezuela.

Father Felix had assumed full responsibility for Opus Dei women in the country. His inquisitorial attitude was difficult for us. Unhappily, friction developed when the members of the regional advisory, the local directresses, and an older numerary or two were making our annual spiritual retreat in Casavieja. This provoked his anger with me.

Father Genty was giving the retreat. According to the rescripts from Rome, we knew that members making their retreat ought to go to confession with the Opus Dei priest in charge of the retreat, but they have always had the freedom to go to confession with any of the ecclesiastical assistants or the ordinary confessor of the house. Following an Opus Dei custom, we left pieces of paper on top of a table in the hall for people to sign up for confession, with Father Genty as the director of the exercises, or with either of the other two ecclesiastical assistants. When I went to put down my name, I saw that only two had signed up for Father Felix; the rest had written their names on Father Genty's list.

Next day when Father Felix gave a meditation, we gave him the two lists for confession. Obviously, he saw that most of us had signed up for confession with Father Genty, including all the superiors of the regional advisory, except one. The following day, he came to the house and said he wanted to talk to me. I went into the parlor with Eva Josefina Uzcategui, and without further ado he said to me: "You're an idiot. How can you give such bad example by encouraging everybody to go to confession to Father Alberto Genty, when he is not the ordinary confessor of this house?"

I appealed to the rescript from Rome on this subject, but it did not stop his reprimand: "Going to confession to Father Alberto Genty is like going to confession to the priest from the parish down the block."

I responded that as an Opus Dei priest and one who was giving us the retreat, he could not be considered a bad shepherd. Father Felix responded: "Anyone who is not the ordinary or extraordinary confessor of a house is a bad shepherd, according to the Father's doctrine."

Naturally, we all had to go to confession to Father Felix. Nevertheless, I entered the confessional at another time, and explained to Father Genty what had happened.

Faithful to the Father's instructions, Opus Dei women superiors had no dealings with the church hierarchy except for the cardinal and the apostolic nuncio. We visited them, as etiquette demanded, at Christmas, Easter, and their saints' days. By way of anecdote, I recall that as regional directress, I had a dress, which we called the bishop's dress. It was a bit different from the rest of my wardrobe, discreet, but impressive. These visits were not occasions for serious exchanges; Monsignor Escriva's advice was to "tell pleasant stories about our servants." Monsignor Luigi Dadaglio, with whom I always maintained a good personal relationship, was apostolic nuncio of His Holiness in Venezuela. On one of the official visits I made in the company of another numerary, he asked how many vocations we had had that year. With complete spontaneity I gave him the number. As was obligatory, we sent a report about the visit to Rome. Shortly thereafter, Father Roberto Salvat transmitted to me Monsignor Escriva's indication that I had been "very indiscreet with the nuncio, because one should never give any kind of explanations about the Work to the church hierarchy." When I asked why, his answer was, "Because the Father has said so and that's enough."

We received other rescripts from Rome, specifically from the Father, in which we were told quite plainly: "Our women are not to answer any note or letter that may come from bishops or episcopal commissions. The notes or letters will be handed over to the counselor, so that he may hand them over to me."

Years later after leaving Opus Dei I went to visit Monsignor Dadaglio in Madrid, when he was serving as nuncio to Spain. He always received me most cordially. I remember that on my first visit he made a remark to the effect: "Five years ago I wouldn't have believed anything, and now I believe it all," referring, of course, to Opus Dei. I also kept him informed about what had happened in Rome and about Father Tomas Guiterrez who came for a visit to Madrid while I was visiting my family for the purpose of intimidating me.

In Venezuela, in late 1964 and early 1965, we received an avalanche of notes, rescripts, indications, letters, and so forth. I could not quite see the relevance of many of them in our country, and there was no way of putting them immediately into practice, as we were ordered to do. Other documents were issued from the press as letters from the Father, which seemed to me quite harsh toward people who had worked in new Opus Dei foundations. He insisted that they leave their positions in the country where they had worked. I shared my impressions with the other advisors.

What preoccupied me during that period was that the ecclesiastical assistants seemed more distant, especially after the return from Rome of Eva Josefina Uzcategui. I even mentioned this one day in the confessional to Father Jose Maria Pena, spiritual director of the region. He reassured me, reminding me that the obligation of fraternal correction applied to everyone, and that if I had done anything wrong, they would tell me. Since I still had faith in the Work, I wrote a long letter to Monsignor Escriva which I sent in a sealed envelope. In it I opened my heart completely and with utter sincerity told him how much I had suffered to get the center of studies started and that the counselor's attitude was always critical of us, particularly of me.

I also described the rather strange and mysterious air with which Eva Josefina Uzcategui had come back from Rome, insinuating that from now on the advisors should not have contact with outsiders but follow the example of the Women's Branch central government; we should devote ourselves exclusively to work inside the offices of the regional advisory. Father Roberto Salvat had told me, I reported, that it was "stupid for me to do apostolate with married women by going to Valencia."

I had thought that Monsignor Escriva would have responded to my letter, as he had done several other times, but nothing came.

I began to worry, but then thought I had an overheated imagination. Since I have never been able to put up with ambiguous situations, I wanted to confront the problem. In agreement with Ana Maria Gibert, my director, I called the counselor, Father Roberto Salvat, and asked him to come to the confessional at Casavieja because I needed to speak to him. When he came, I begged him to tell me whether I had done anything wrong and if so, to make me the appropriate fraternal correction. Father Roberto said that there was nothing wrong, that if there was anything he would tell me, that it was all my imagination. Given his manner on this occasion, I must say he was very pleasant.

However, two days later, one of the priests who came to Casavieja to hear the confessions of married women, requested that I enter the confessional and he told me something that astonished me. Eva Josefina Uzcategui had approached his confessional to tell him that she was slipping a letter under the door to be given to the counselor. The priest said he wanted to tell me because that had seemed very strange and he was afraid that something was looming over my head.

In all my years in Opus Dei, this was the first time I had heard of anything of this sort. I thought that something was being plotted against me, but I could not understand what it was all about. I spoke to Father Jose Maria Pena again, as regional spiritual director, and he assured me that nothing was happening. I got along very well with my director, Ana Maria Gibert, who was and is one of the best and most intelligent people I have met in my life. She, too, attempted to dissipate my "groundless" fears.

On October 11, 1965, I was running errands with Ana Maria Gibert, when the counselor, Roberto Salvat Romero, telephoned Casavieja, to say that they should locate me urgently wherever I was. Whenever I went out, I had the practice of calling home to check for any important messages. This time Ana Maria called and received the message.

Given the urgency, we immediately went to the administration of La Trocha, the counselor's house, which was closer than ours. We notified him by intercom that Ana Maria and I were there. (Ana Maria Gibert was my internal directress, she was in the women's regional government and, furthermore, was an inscribed member.) The counselor came down and seeing me with Ana Maria asked me: "Can you go home now?" "Yes, of course," I answered. "Is Eva Josefina there?" "Yes, she is there," I answered. "Well, Father Jose Maria Felix and I are on our way now." Father Felix was the priest secretary in charge of the Women's Branch.

We went home and they arrived within fifteen minutes. Standing in the visitors' parlor, Father Roberto said to me: "Look, a note has just come from Rome saying you are to go there as soon as possible. The Father wants you to rest for a few days. You are to make the trip non-stop."

I was in shock.

"Doesn't it seem odd to you?" "Odd? Why? You know that the Father wants to see the older people again because, as the song says: 'Si fa sera nella sua vita' (night is falling in his life). What greater sign of kindness! You get a round-trip ticket. Logically, the plan will be to spend a couple of weeks in Rome; and I am sure, the Father, who is very paternal, will tell you to spend at least a week or two in Spain to see your parents, and afterwards you will come back."

"But do you really think I'll come back?" "Listen to how silly you are! Instead of thinking about happy days in Rome, you are going to spoil your trip. What is important is to leave as soon as possible and get to Rome this very week, because when the Father calls, he likes people to come immediately."

I told the counselor that my passport was not in order, and I did not have a visa, nor a current vaccination certificate, but the counselor insisted that I should make the trip as soon as possible.

The delegate, Eva Josefina, seconded everything the counselor had said.

What puzzled me was that he did not bring the note from Rome with him, since whenever the counselor received a note or anything dealing with the Women's Branch, he was supposed to give it to us to read.

I spoke to Father Jose Maria Pena, who told me to call the counselor and insist that he should read me the note from Rome. Also, I asked Father Pena if it would be bad spirit to tell the Father that I would like to go back to work in Venezuela, if he should instruct me to stay in Rome. Father Pena told me plainly that it was not bad spirit at all, since it was established that the members of the Work ought to live in those countries where their personality best allowed them to serve God within Opus Dei. This directive gave me great peace.

I phoned Father Salvat and in his absence spoke with Father Felix. My insistence perplexed him a bit, and he repeated almost word for word what the counselor had told me that morning. There was no way of getting them to give me the note to read, nor have them read it to me. They only repeated time and again that the Father wanted me to go to Rome to rest for a few days.

Withholding the note from me made me think that there was something in that note that they did not want me to know, and this made me very uncomfortable. I suspected that the counselor and the delegate did not like my approach to certain instructions coming from Rome, and that, instead of making me a fraternal correction according to the rules if my attitude seemed incorrect to them, they had informed Rome on the matter to get me removed from the country. This seemed likely in view of the demeanor that I had recently noted both in the counselor and the delegate when she returned from her last visit to Rome.

I had the sense of receiving a beating over the head organized with the connivance of the delegate. Although Ana Maria Gibert begged me to reject that idea, I was unable to do so. My old credulity had ended. Too many coincidences confirmed my fears that something loomed over me.

They gave me the news of the note on the morning of October 11, and four days later at 11:30 P.M., I was on a flight to Rome.

I made no farewells. The counselor and delegate advised me that it was not worth saying goodbye to anyone for so a short time, especially not to the ecclesiastical hierarchy. A two-week absence was anticipated. Nevertheless, I left everything in order and signed several blank sheets of paper according to standard procedure for absences of directors.

It took me three days to renew my personal documents and obtaining an Italian visa, besides buying basic winter clothing that one does not use or have in a tropical climate: a coat, a raincoat, a suit, and a few sweaters.

I had no desire to go shopping. I felt very sad, but wanted to believe what the counselor had said. Something like a sixth sense inside me said it was not true. Curiously, one by one, all of the advisors told me that my trip seemed strange, and they were somewhat frightened. We knew I would not be able to write them, but I promised without knowing how, that I would tell them what was happening. I asked them to pray for me.

One day without saying anything to anybody I went to the center of Caracas, to Plaza Bolivar. Looking at the statue of the Liberator on horseback, I smiled thinking that when I arrived in Caracas I deemed it offensive to compare him to Monsignor Escriva. Without even realizing it in those ten years, I had learned to admire the founding fathers and realized that no country has the right to consider itself master of another. Instinctively that idea led me to reflect that in Opus Dei most national directors are Spaniards. The same thing is true in both the men's and women's central governments in Rome. Among the people in that plaza I felt as though I belonged. I felt a kind of physical need to belong and, so to speak, listen to the heartbeat of simple people. The afternoon I left Caracas I went to La Pastora, a church in a poor neighborhood in the center of the city. I looked at the image of the Virgin, a shepherdess, and asked pardon for the errors I might have committed. I begged her to take care of the young flock I was leaving behind.

It hurt to leave the country. I had given it the best part of my life. I had identified completely with it, and it had always been my intention to transmit the spirit of Opus Dei.

When news of my departure for Rome became known, Lilia Negron, a physician, now married, whom I had known since she was fifteen, said to me gravely: "You are not coming back. They will leave you there." Lilia was a faithful friend. I followed her life closely: as a pupil, university student, engaged, then married, and most recently mother. Her first child Alberto Jose had just been born. Specifically, regarding Lilia, Opus Dei's judgment was that I should not devote so much time to her because she was not going to be a numerary. In reality, I ignored the indication. I always followed the practice of giving my time to anyone who asked for it or needed it, simply because I never believed that my time was my own but rather something that God had given me to administer. And I still think so.

Only with great effort was I able to refrain from calling Eva Josefina a hypocrite. In my soul I was convinced she had organized the whole thing. I was not attached to my position of authority. They renewed me in it three times. I only wanted to work in Venezuela. I never desired positions of authority and their only meaning for me was service. The counselors of Venezuela and Colombia gave me the blessing for the trip. The latter, indeed, said that I should not mention to anyone in Rome that he was in Venezuela, because only the Father and Don Alvaro would understand his trip. The counselor of Venezuela said to me: "We will both give you the blessing, one for each way."

As I look back over my years in Venezuela, my impressions and reactions are varied and complex. In regard to the country's history, I had the good fortune to witness the change from dictatorship to democracy. Personally, and because of my complete identification with the spirit of Opus Dei I had helped Opus Dei grow, not only in the Women's Branch, but throughout the whole country. I won many vocations of numeraries. I greatly encouraged the supernumeraries and cooperators and began the work with associates and auxiliaries, getting the first vocations among them. My initiative helped begin clinics in poor neighborhoods, as well as new houses and new activities, even outside Caracas. I was responsible for the center of studies, the string of students sent to the Roman College of Santa Maria, the achievement of financial stability, and for sending numeraries to strengthen other nations. I had carried on a genuine apostolate of friendship with many people in the country.

I learned that the Venezuelan woman is very special, combining many admirable traits. I can guarantee by my own experience. Venezuelans are people of integrity.

Sometimes the responsibility before God of having stimulated so many vocations to Opus Dei, especially in that country, terrifies me. Now I realize that Opus Dei is capable of lying and doing so publicly, especially about persons who once belonged. I also realize that the superiors are capable of fictionalizing the life of Monsignor Escriva in such an extraordinary manner, simply in order to have their own saint. This responsibility before God terrifies me, because there are persons, who, when the mask of Opus Dei falls off, are not capable of bearing what they see, and in their fear, desperation, or impotence, take their lives or try to, as has happened in England, Spain, and the United States.

Two supernumeraries who held me in great esteem, Cecilia and Hector Font, drove me to the airport with my director, Ana Maria Gibert. The wait in Maiquetia became depressing. The plane that was to carry me to Rome arrived late from Brazil. They were difficult moments for everyone, but especially for me, who embarked on an unknown course.



1. Years later he left Opus Dei while in Mexico and, because of Opus Dei pressure, was obliged to change his name to Antonio Perez-Tenessa.

2. The expolium is an Opus Dei custom whose purpose is to provide another way of living poverty. On October 4, numeraries leave on the house director's desk personal items like a watch, necklace, pen, and so forth. The directress decides whether all or only some of these things should be returned.

3. In order for anyone to leave the institute during the period for which the oblation has been made, a dispensation is necessary that only the Father can grant, after consultation with his own council (i.e., the central government) and the regional government. Constitutions, 1950, p. 60, no. 98, para. 1.

4. "In utraque pariter Operis Dei Sectione, virorum scilicet ac mulierum, eadem est unitas vocationis, spiritus, finis et regiminis, etsi unaquaeque Sectio proprios habeat apostolatus." Cited from Rocca, L'Opus Dei, p. 224.

5. See Klaus Steigleder, Das Opus Dei: Eine Innenanssicht, 4th ed. (Zurich: Benziger, 1991), pp. 203-11; and Robert Hutchison, Die Heilige Mafia des Papstes, pp. 341-46, where the author speaks in detail about Venezuela.

6. See Ana Sastre, "En defensa del Padre," Panorama (Madrid) March 3, 1992, p. 13.

7. See, among other places, El Mundo (Madrid), April 22, 1994, p. 28.

8. Constitutions, 1950, p. 36, no. 36, para. 1; Constitutions, 1982, p. 18, no. 20, para. 5.

9. See Vincente Cacho Viu, La Institucion Libre de Ensenanza (Madrid: Rialp, 1962).

10. See Francisco Giner de los Rios, La verdadera descentralizacion de la Ensenanza.

11. New York: Scepter, 1992.

12. Months after the publication of the first Spanish edition of this book, I learned to my deep sorrow that Hoppy Phelps was shot in Caracas. She did not die but remained in a coma for over two years. She died recently.
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Postby admin » Thu Oct 22, 2015 8:34 am

Part 1 of 2


At the outset, I would like to explain to the reader that I am able to write everything that follows in such detail, because when I left Opus Dei, I wrote down all the events that had occurred, including conversations and names of the witnesses almost as an exercise in mental health. I thought that years later I might forget events and names, and something in my heart told me that I ought to record the happenings, not out of rancor but for the sake of historic justice.

The Other Side of the Coin

Another hop over the Atlantic and the next day the plane flew over Lisbon, affording a splendid view. We arrived in Rome after dark. It must have been about 6:30 P.M., on October 16, 1965. According to Opus Dei custom, no one is met at the airport. Two numeraries were waiting for me in the bus terminal: Marga Barturen and Maribe Urrutia. Both of them were senior in the Work and both knew me. There was jubilation at my arrival and surprise on my part when they asked me: "Why did you come?" My answer was sincere, "I don't know."

We collected my baggage, which was rather light. At 8:15 P.M. we arrived at Villa Saccetti, 36. The arrival was normal for a person who had left the central house in September 1956, and returns in October 1965, just as she was when she left: directress of the region of Venezuela and an inscribed member.

While we were still in the vestibule, the central directress, Mercedes Morado (whom I mentioned in the description of my stay in Bilboa), came down to meet me accompanied by Marlies Kucking, prefect of studies. There were hearty greetings and Mercedes asked me: "Where are your suitcases?" "My suitcases? I only brought one small suitcase for two weeks."

I saw that Mercedes looked at Marlies and smiled. Immediately she said: "Let somebody show you to your room."

Lourdes Toranzo accompanied me to the room. (Lourdes was the subdirector of the formation course at Los Rosales.)

The room was in good order: flowers, sink and shower, and so forth. I was surprised to see a thick mattress on my bed on top of the plank, something that is only assigned to people who are ill, since female numeraries normally sleep on wooden planks. Opening the door to the lavatory I saw a urinal on the floor. I was puzzled and asked: "What is that urinal doing here?"

They told me that the Father had said that the numeraries who had reached their fortieth birthday should have a urinal placed in their room. I had reached that milestone a few months earlier.

I had not finished unpacking when they informed me by the intercom in the hall, that I should run to the dining room of Villa Vecchia, where the Father was waiting for me.

I went in all haste, because the dining room was about eight minutes away at a brisk pace.

Encounter with the Father

Rosalia, the servant, told me they were waiting for me and to enter without knocking. I went into the dining room of the Villa, where Monsignor Escriva had just had supper with Don Alvaro del Portillo. Monsignor Escriva was seated at the head of the table, Don Alvaro del Portillo at his left, the central directress at the Father's right and the prefect of servants, Maria Jesus de Mer, a physician, was also present. I approached Monsignor Escriva's chair and with the left knee on the floor, as is obligatory in Opus Dei, I kissed his hand.

The conversation went as follows:

"How was your trip?"

"Very good, Father, thank you."

"How were they when you left them?" -- referring to the Venezuelan numeraries.

"Well, Father. Except that Begona concerns me very much because of her illness." (Begona Elejalde had just found out as a result of an operation that she had Hodgkin's disease.)

"'Misfortune,' you call it, knowing that soon she's going with God. But that is a blessing! What luck is hers! Happy is she thinking that she will soon die! And who is Begona? How long has she been ill?" The central directress whispered something to Monsignor Escriva. I realized that the Father did not know this inscribed member, founder of the Venezuelan region, a person who held two positions in the regional advisory. I also realized that the Father was even unaware that she was sick and had undergone an operation. I was very surprised that the Father was uninformed because we had faithfully reported to the central government about Begona's illness and operation. But I reflected and attributed it to the fact that the Father appeared old and that they wanted to avoid upsetting him.

Monsignor Escriva went on:

"And you, how is your health?" "Very well, Father." "I'll bet the doctor hasn't seen you." "Yes, Father, each year we have a thorough medical examination."

"Well, no matter! You, Chus," speaking to the physician, "have a look at her. Let her eat, let her sleep, and let her rest, because we are going to give her a lot of work here. Now rest, eat, and sleep." With these words he went out of his dining room with Alvaro del Portillo.

Since I knew Monsignor Escriva well, I realized that, though he was trying to be courteous, something in his voice betrayed a certain annoyance.

As we went down the stairs from the Villa dining room to the kitchen, I asked Mercedes with the confidence of one who had known her for so many years: "Tell me something, Mercedes. Why have I come to Rome? I'll go back to Venezuela, right?" "What did they tell you?" "That the Father wanted me to spend a few days here resting." "Well, that's it. I don't know anything about anything, but you heard the Father: eat, sleep, rest."

The next day I went to St. Peter's. Paul VI was then Pope. They asked me if I wanted to stay for the Pope's blessing, but I answered that I had better get back in case the Father called after lunch. This pleased the advisor who accompanied me, who reported it later. Once again, we see that in Opus Dei good spirit means putting the Father above anyone, including the Pope.

October 18, 19, and 20 I was stuck in my room with absolutely nothing to do. I was only able to leave it at the times set for common activities, all of which I was instructed to do with the central government. Whenever I tried to leave my room to go to the garden, for instance, I encountered Lourdes Toranzo, whose room was near mine and who always asked me where I was going. If I told her that I was simply going to pray the rosary in the garden, for instance, she would find some unlikely pretext, to send me back to my room. I got up in time to attend the last Mass scheduled late for those who were ill.

In the eyes of most people in the house, I received privileged treatment, since I performed all common acts with the central government. For myself, after so long in Opus Dei, it meant that they had me under close surveillance. In fact, I had felt watched ever since I arrived in Rome.

A few days later, Mercedes Morado told me I was to make my confidence with Marlies Kucking, who was the prefect of studies in the central advisory. She was German, blond, slightly stout, but attractive; she was the only member of the central government I did not know. I realized that she was the right hand of the central directress of Opus Dei women -- today she holds that post herself -- and that the Father held her in high esteem.

I noticed that they slighted Mary Carmen Sanchez-Merino, the secretary of the central government, to give more importance to Marlies Kucking.

After four days of doing absolutely nothing, for there were not even any books in my room, and leaving the room only to fulfill the schedule of common acts with the central government, I asked Mercedes Morado to assign me some task. They gave me the whole catalogue of the book storeroom (it was not called a library) of the men's and women's sections of Opus Dei; to be done by alphabetical order and by subjects.

I realized that this was drudgery that would take months. Nonetheless, I worked at it with determination. I did the work in my room so that I was completely isolated from the rest of the house.

Missing Pieces

Two weeks went by and nobody explained the purpose of my stay in Rome. I spoke to Marlies Kucking and told her that my departure from Venezuela was so hasty that the counselor advised me that I should write my parents on arrival in Rome to save time. Marlies told me to write them, but that they would send the letter to Venezuela so that it could be sent from there to my parents in Spain. I never found out why such deception was necessary.

The Betancourts, a couple from Venezuela who had made Opus Dei's Maracaibo foundation possible, arrived in Rome. Mrs. Betancourt was near death from cancer. When someone arrived in Rome from another country, the custom was for the numerary from that country who was in the central house to accompany the visitors during their interview with the Father. In this case, I was not called, which seemed surprising, but I did not give the matter much importance.

The visits that Monsignor Escriva received from different countries were totally regulated and organized, because the central government had established with the Father's approval, that 1) Opus Dei authorities in the countries had to explain why certain visitors should be received by Monsignor Escriva; 2) that once back in their own countries they should make the prospective visitors understand what Monsignor Escriva's "needs" are. This meant telling them that they should bring a gift of cash besides some other token of their esteem. Many people sent a check beforehand or handed it over on arrival when their visit was announced. Needless to say, nobody arrived empty-handed.

When the Betancourts visited the Father, they made a most generous donation and invited me to lunch. I was advised that they would come for me at one o'clock and that I had to be back at three, an impossible time limitation in Rome, where lunch is a prolonged affair. I went out with the Betancourts, but in view of the time pressure, we decided to have just aperitifs. I was so upset at the restaurant that I became quite sick and vomited. The Betancourts brought me to their hotel to rest for a while, even at the risk of my getting back late. While Mrs. Betancourt went up to her room, her husband stayed with me in the vestibule and said bluntly that I seemed very different, very nervous. I explained that I had been in Rome for three weeks without any assigned job and still did not know why I had come. He offered to give me money. They fussed over me; and finally told the hotel manager in my presence that if I should ever turn up at the hotel, he should give me whatever I needed at their expense. They went away quite worried and called several times, once from Florence. We chose our words carefully, because we suspected that someone was listening in.

In family life within the central government I was under surveillance. I received absurd fraternal corrections, such as that my Venezuelan accent was noticeable when I spoke. Whatever the fraternal correction, they always added that "I exhibited enormous individualism and tried to squelch others." When I asked them to give me an example to understand my fault better, they never provided one. Accordingly, in family life, I spoke as little as possible.

I had yet to be told if I was to go to Spain to visit my family or return to Venezuela. Eventually, I sensed that there were plans for me that Monsignor Escriva would tell me. They attempted to distract me like a child; the confidences dealt with silly topics. I never found out what the real problem was. One day I went out with one of the advisors to buy several things for Venezuela, a common practice when the directress of a country arrives in Rome. But I realized that it was all a charade. When we came back, the giggles among the advisors were too obvious.

I went to confession to Father Carlos Cardona, who was the ordinary confessor of the house, and who, as I recall, was the spiritual director of the central advisory. In my first confession, I told him with some anxiety about the strange treatment I was receiving from my superiors, which had no connection to the explanation for my trip to Rome given me by the counselor of Venezuela. I had not seen the Father again since the night of my arrival. During my first two confessions Father Cardona seemed kind and understanding, but suddenly he changed. He repeated unceasingly that my leaving Venezuela was providential, because my salvation was in danger due to a very sophisticated pride. As confessor he understood and saw all this in the name of God. It was clear through his change of attitude that either the Father, or the superiors on the Father's instructions, had given him directions to follow in my case. My anguish became terrible.

During my confidence and even in my confession there were insinuations that I had done terrible things in Venezuela, letting me understand that they went against the Father and the spirit of the Work. But again I pressed and requested specifics so that I might amend and repent of them; the only answer I got was: how was it possible that I didn't realize? Nobody went beyond that or specified anything to me.

My anguish grew so dreadful that one night after supper I decided to speak to Mercedes Morado, the central directress. I plainly stated that I noted great tension around me and to please tell me what they planned to do with me. A month had gone by since my arrival from Venezuela, and I didn't know what I was doing in Rome. I broke down and began to cry, but Mercedes remained cold and hard. To end the conversation, she said: "I don't know anything, do you believe me?"

I answered that it was difficult to believe that she, the central directress, didn't know why I was in Rome. But finally I blurted out: "Yes, I believe you. Just as I still believe in the Father's note that said that I was coming here to rest for a few days."

In the confidence, I mentioned several things I found disturbing at the central house in Rome. Rather than a sense of inclusiveness of all countries, everything revolved around Spain; Italian was hardly spoken. In addition, the directors lacked warmth, and there was servility rather than affection for the Father along with a cultic worship of his personality. Family life was not spontaneous, and people were not free to come and go. Above all, there was such a sense of discretion and secrecy that everything had become sheer misery. For example, you were never told when a numerary was coming from another country; you simply met her in a hall or saw her in the oratory.

Naturally, both Marlies Kucking in the confidence and Father Cardona in confession told me that what I had to say showed my lamentable critical spirit. Because I had mentioned some of these matters to a senior numerary or some servant who had reminisced with me about the years 1952-1956, I became the recipient of extraordinarily sharp fraternal corrections, being told that this was murmuring, scandal, and bad example. The moment came when I did not know what to talk about.

The superiors never spoke to me about Venezuela. I felt like someone from another planet in those surroundings.

One night, Rosalia Lopez, the servant who always waited on the Father at meals, said to me: "The Father has asked me how you are." (I had not seen the Father again since the night of my arrival.) "What did you tell him?" "Well, that you're very Venezuelan, and you talk the way they do there."

I was very careful not to let my tongue slip in front of her, because I knew well that she carried tales to the Father.

The atmosphere in Villa Sacchetti and the central house reminded me of the movie The Nun's Story, based on Catherine Hulme's novel, where she depicts the central house of a Belgian religious order and calls its superiors "the living rules." I had the same feeling: I was speaking to "living rules," not human beings.

As I described it in my confidence, the atmosphere in the house was like a police state: between the coldness of the superiors, my reclusion, the commandments from on high, and the letter of the spirit instead of the spirit of the letter, together with what I call that "mysterious discretion," and everything wrapped up in "the Father says," "the Father likes," "the Father has said," "the Father passed through here," and so forth.

Two thoughts occurred to me. On the one hand, I wondered if the Rome I had known from 1952 to 1956 was not more open than this other Rome that I met now. We worked like madwomen then, but I remembered it as more human. On the other hand, I thought that the open, warm temperament of Venezuela had changed me, and that coming back to this house of the central advisory, I felt asphyxiated. We did not speak about the church or about apostolate, but about proselytism. We did not speak as much about God as about the Father. The Second Vatican Council was taking place but it was not mentioned in a single get-together.

The eve of a First Friday, before entering the oratory, Rosalia Lopez, Monsignor Escriva's maid, said to me: "Miss, say goodbye to your country, because you are not going back to Venezuela."

I reminded her that what one hears in the administered house should never be repeated. When I mentioned the incident to the central directress, she responded: "To what are you going to pay attention, to what I say or to what a servant says?" "Naturally to what you tell me," was my answer. "Well then, don't pay attention to the servant."

To some degree, I went to the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament with greater peace.

Since I had not expressly been told to hand over my letters to the directress, I took advantage of the arrival of people from Venezuela and wrote two or three short letters as a major superior to my directress in Caracas, telling her the uncertainty in which I lived, the anguish I felt, and the closed atmosphere of the house.


One day in November just before noon, I was notified that I had been summoned by the Father. I immediately went to the central advisory sessions chamber. The room is not large. To reach it one must cross the government oratory. The walls and high-backed chairs are upholstered in red velvet. A refectory table is in the middle. In one wall there is a niche with the Virgin of the Work. The small image is carved according to the vision that Monsignor Escriva had of Our Lady, they told us in whispers.

I entered the room. Monsignor Escriva was seated at the head of the table. Don Alvaro del Portillo was absent. However, at Monsignor Escriva's left was seated Father Javier Echevarria, who at that time had no role whatsoever in the Women's Branch. At Monsignor's right was the central directress, Mercedes Morado, and at her right, the prefect of studies, Marlies Kucking. Monsignor Escriva ordered me to sit next to Marlies. The conversation went as follows:

"Look, Carmen, because I am not going to call you Maria del Carmen, as you like." He paused to look around as if seeking approval. "I have called you," he continued, "to tell you that I want you to work here in Rome. You are not going back to Venezuela! We brought you here under false pretenses," he said smiling, almost amused, "because otherwise, with that temper of yours, I don't know what you might have been capable of. So, now you know. You are not going back to Venezuela. You're not needed there, and you will never return. At a given point I sent you there because you had to save the day and you did it very well. Now, you're no longer needed at all! It is better that you never go back again."

My voice sounded unexpectedly strong and clear and made everyone turn their eyes toward me when I said with utter respect: "Father, I would like to live and die in Venezuela."

Visibly annoyed, Monsignor Escriva rose from his chair and began to shout at me: "No and no! Didn't you hear! You're not going back, because I don't want you to, and I have authority" -- and he pointed his finger at each of those present -- "to order him and her and you, with your gigantic pride! You are not going back!"

It was as if scales had fallen from my eyes. I responded sadly: "Father, that is very difficult for me."

"Well, if it's difficult for you, it's also difficult for me," Monsignor Escriva shouted striking his chest, "not to go back to Spain and here I am: stuck in Rome! And if you love Venezuela, I love Spain more! So, put up with it!"

Monsignor Escriva started to leave, and we all rose. Heading toward the Relics Chapel, he turned back and exploded again: "Besides, that is pride! I'm going to say Mass now and I will pray for you. Stay in the oratory for a while." And he left through the Relics Chapel.

I waited in the oratory for about fifteen minutes, and asked the central directress if I might speak with her. In her work room I broke down and could not stop weeping. Between my sobs, I repeated that what hurt most was to find that I had been deceived and that the Father had lied and made the others lie. I told her that it seemed dishonest to circulate a printed letter which says that "people will be asked whether they want to go to a country or not," since they had not only not asked me about my preference, but had lied to me the whole time. In my tears, I kept repeating that what crushed me was to realize that the Father had lied.

I went to my room and did not want to eat. I spent the whole afternoon there. The physician, Maria Jesus de Mer, came to my room and forced me to swallow some pills against my will, without telling me what they were, they put me to sleep.

The next morning at ten, the central directress, Mercedes Morado, called me to the soggiorno of La Montagnola, the central advisory house. With her were the government secretary, Mary Carmen Sanchez Merino, and the procurator, Carmen Puente, a Mexican. The central directress asked me if I felt calmer. I said "yes," shrugging my shoulders like one who has no other choice. She also asked me if I still thought that they had lied to me in the note and that the Father had deceived me and had lied. "Yes, I still think so."

Realizing that she made these questions in front of advisors who had not been at the meeting the day before, I asked her: "What is this? An admonition?" [1]

Mercedes answered: "No, no. It is caring and wanting to see how you are. Very well, now go to your room."

I went to my room.

First Canonical Admonition

My room was at the other end of the house. I had not been back there for more than twenty minutes when they notified me by the intercom in the hall that I should go immediately to the sessions room of the central government.

I entered. Monsignor Escriva was standing and visibly irate. Father Javier Echevarria and Father Francisco Vives were on his left, both looking very stern. At the Father's right was the central directress, Mercedes Morado, the physician, Maria Jesus de Mer, and the prefect of studies, Marlies Kucking. All of them looked furious. I felt terrified at the scene.

The interview went as follows:

"These people have told me," Monsignor Escriva said, pointing his finger at the central directress and the other two advisors present, "that you have received the news that you are not going back to Venezuela with hysteria and tears." Beside himself, he shouted at me, "Very bad spirit! You are not going back to Venezuela, because your work has been individualistic and bad! And you have murmured against my documents! Against my documents, you have murmured!"

His anger affected his breathing, and he held his clenched fist close to my face. "This is serious! Serious! Serious! I admonish you canonically. Let it be so recorded," he said directing his words to Javier Echevarria, who, I insist, had no position whatsoever in the women's central government. "Next time," continued Monsignor Escriva, "you are out! Always complications since 1948! You and that other one! Now you come to me with this. And don't cry, because your trouble is that you are proud, proud, proud ... " Repeating these words he went through the chalice room, toward the major sacristy.

I stood frozen. I did not budge. The central directress said angrily: "What unpleasantness you are causing the Father!"

I should like to explain here the past event to which Monsignor Escriva obviously was referring. In 1948, when I was struggling with my vocational problem, I made a trip to Valladolid to attend an alumnae reunion of the French Dominican nuns' school. Incidentally, I discussed my situation with Mere Marie de la Soledad, who, as I said, did not see my vocation to Opus Dei clearly. However, I concluded that if God sought it of me, I should surrender my doubt and stop thinking of my fiance. I discussed the matter again with the nun who suggested that I send the news about my final decision to my confessor, Father Panikkar. So, I simply resolved to send a telegram to Molinoviejo, where he was at the moment. As I recall, the text of the telegram was something like: "I have offered everything for the missions, although more in love than ever." (Obviously, I was talking about loving my fiance.) Naturally my confessor understood the text, but apparently not the director of the house, who opened the telegram and discussed it with an Opus Dei superior, as they told me later. Several months later, on a trip to Madrid, Encarnita Ortega, who by then lived in Rome, called me to Zurbanin and told me in the crudest fashion "that I had declared my love to an Opus Dei priest by telegram." I was dumbfounded, because nothing was further from the truth. I so informed her. When she told me what she and the Father believed, I could not believe my ears. I explained matters, but she refused to understand. I then said that I lamented that something had been so greatly misinterpreted, that I was truly sorry, and that I would present my apologies to Monsignor Escriva, telling him that I did not wish to offend any of his priests in any way and much less my confessor. After that I did not go to Zurbaran for a while. Now, with this admonition, Monsignor Escriva made me recall such an unpleasant incidence.

All of the advisors departed and left me alone with my anguish. They made just one indication: "Come to lunch on time."

I could not believe what I heard and saw. That good, affectionate Father, whom I had dearly loved, for whom I had done everything in my life since coming to Opus Dei, had just formulated an admonition with the threat of expelling me from Opus Dei. I could not accept that Monsignor Escriva could be so harsh and not allow me the opportunity to speak to him alone, listening and questioning me before judging me in public. It was a trial with no defense but only prosecution. Above all, I was hurt by the Father's manners, his lack of understanding, or more precisely, his lack of charity.

I kept repeating his phrase: "Next time, you're out," but still could not believe it. The "murmuring" about the documents to which Monsignor Escriva referred must have meant my overt comments to the counselor and regional priest secretary of Venezuela, suggesting that the members of Opus Dei be allowed to go to confession to whomever they wanted as long as the confessor was an Opus Dei priest or, should special circumstances arise, with anyone authorized to hear confessions. Although such freedom is written into Opus Dei documents, it is "bad spirit" if anyone actually uses it. I considered all this a serious lack of freedom opposed to the freedom of which Opus Dei members were supposed to be pioneers.

My comments were equally open, and in the course of my official responsibilities, with the superiors of the Venezuelan regional government, when notes arrived laying down obligations, as for example: "Our members will make a monthly outing to the countryside." Since Venezuela does not have a countryside but a jungle, we interpreted the notes by going to private beaches at times when they were not crowded, taking advantage of an apartment loaned by a friend or cooperator. Or, again, my comments referred to requests from Rome to get subscriptions for the then newborn Actualidad Espanola, a magazine edited by Opus Dei, which had no interest for anybody in Venezuela.


In the afternoon of the day I received the first admonition, Marlies Kucking came to my room and told me that the Father had decided the following: a) that I would not write to Venezuela again; b) that they would not give me any letter that might come for me from there; c) that if visitors from Venezuela should ask for me, they would be informed that "I was sick or temporarily away from Rome"; d) that I must make reparation for the harm I had done in Venezuela; e) that they would attempt to make everyone in Venezuela forget me and that they would make clear to all what "bad spirit" I had shown; f) that I had deformed the spirit of the Work; g) that only by prayer and blind obedience would I save my soul; h) that no one in the house in Rome was to be aware of "my lamentable situation." They wanted to help me to get out of the pothole in which I was stuck because of my pride ("Pothole" means any spiritual problem you might have.) I did not respond. I accepted what Marlies said and only asked that they should tell me about Begona Elejalde's ongoing health problems, because her illness was serious and she had recently undergone an operation. Days later Mercedes Morado responded negatively to this request, telling me that "I could not even ask how Begona's health was; my will should force my intellect to not ask," which meant to put the will on a higher level than the intellect.

We had learned about Begona's illness shortly before I left Caracas. When her family learned of the operation, they called from Bilbao, but I received orders from the counselor, Father Roberto Salvat, not to inform them that she had Hodgkin's disease and to downplay the gravity of her illness. I felt uncomfortable talking to Begona's mother, since I could not tell her the truth.

I know that she was sent to Spain, and once, by chance, we met in the Barcelona airport. I was delighted to find that she was the same as always and that she was pleased to see me. However, in our brief conversation, we only exchanged generalities about her sister whom she had just seen off. After Marlies's visit, they changed my room and put me in charge of all the oratories of the house. There were some fourteen or fifteen oratories with several large sacristies where all the vestments and sacred vessels were kept. My job was to prepare the vestments for each Mass that was celebrated in the house and to iron the oratory linens, prepare candles for each set of candlesticks, which were different in every oratory, and make all the hosts. The work was endless; the oratories were far apart; several Masses were celebrated in each of them, and the time to perform these tasks in the afternoon was minimal. Each morning I had to put away all the vestments used in the Masses and bring the dirty linen back home.

Nobody helped me in the work except on feast days when we used the best chalices, normally kept in the Chalice Chapel. There are many chalices in the Opus Dei central house, since each country has sent one to the Father or has made a contribution to have one made. Monsignor Escriva often said that he wanted a chalice in which the screw linking the foot and the cup was a large diamond; he did not want it to be seen from the outside, but be reserved for Our Lord alone.

When a female numerary comes to Opus Dei, she turns over all the jewelry she owns, which is hand delivered to Rome. I cannot estimate the value of the jewelry that we sent to Rome in my time. Later I was humbled by being reminded by a woman who had been a numerary for many years in Venezuela that I once had told her to remove the precious stone in her ring so as to send it to Rome, and to replace the diamond with a false jewel. When she told me her mother might notice, I even suggested that she tell her mother that the ring was dirty. In my eagerness to help Rome and serve the Father I, too, lied.

The next order that I received was to take charge of cleaning the administered house. I thought that perhaps I would drown my anguish in work.

I wanted to inform my director in Venezuela and the other advisors about my situation in Rome and that I would not return again. Since it was impossible to do so through Opus Dei's "legal channels," I managed one afternoon to go out with an advisor who did not speak Italian, and on the pretense that I had to find out whether the Betancourts had left something in my name for the Father, I went to the hotel where they had stayed. I had prepared a note which I handed to the manager with the request that he take care of it, while I asked him if the Betancourts had sent anything for me. He asked me to wait for a minute. He disappeared. Two minutes later, without the paper in his hand, he said that he would remember to notify me if anything arrived, adding: "Tutto a posto, signorina" ("Everything is in order, Miss"). I know now that the telegram reached Venezuela. It said simply that I was staying in Rome under the Father's strict orders.

From that day in November 1965 until March 1966, I was held completely deprived of any outside contact, with the absolute prohibition to go out for any reason or receive or make telephone calls, or to write or receive letters. Nor could I go out for the so-called weekly walk or the monthly excursion. I was a prisoner.

I developed the mentality of an inmate and learned to recognize people by their steps. I learned how long each person took to complete any task. I did not ask for anything. Julia, the older servant, who had known me for so many years, said to me one day in the ironing room: "Don't forget that God sees everything and will not abandon you,'" and she shook her head, expressing her discomfort: "My, my!" Although no complaint escaped my lips, the people in the house knew that I was not allowed to move freely and the disrespectful treatment that I had received from Monsignor Escriva.

Almost two weeks after the admonition, they called me to the session chamber of the central advisory. I trembled as I entered the room.

Gathered there were Father Francisco Vives, central secretary for the Women's Branch worldwide, Father Javier Echevarria, with no authority in the Women's Branch, the central directress, Mercedes Morado, and Marlies Kucking, prefect of studies, who received my confidence.

Father Francisco Vives told me to sit down because he wanted to clarify something related to the admonition the Father had given me. What followed was as close to a set of specific charges as I ever received.

a) "I had murmured against the Father's writings, and I should recall that any writings sent by the Father to the regions had been submitted to internal censorship, although that was not required. It was therefore arrogance on my part to question the Father's writings.

b) "I was very attached to Venezuela and this was deadly.

c) "I had diabolical pride because some people in Venezuela had come to be so attached to me that they didn't dedicate themselves to the Work.

d) "I had personally hurt the Work by trying to rise above it.

e) "I had to cut off all contact with Venezuela and have no further contact with anyone there.

f) "He (Father Francisco Vives) was aware that I had requested in my confidence to leave Rome for Spain, but I should realize that my personal problem would have to be resolved in Rome, since the Father, because of his special love for me, wanted me to remain in Rome.

g) "I would have to fill my day with intense work.

h) "I would have to begin at the bottom and lower than the bottom; I would have to forget everything I knew and had done and ask my director about absolutely everything as if in a spiritual childhood: from how I had to put on my panties to how to fasten my bra.

i) "I should forget my experience and past life and should ask God to give me a child's humility.

j) "This was going to be very difficult because of my diabolical pride, but everyone was going to pray for me so that I might get out of this pothole in which I had fallen.

k) "I should not think of leaving Rome or think that my stay would only be transitory. I had to remain there in the form and fashion that the Father determined.

l) "Nobody in the house could become aware of my lamentable situation.

m) "What I had said to the Father was unheard of, that 'I wanted to live and die in Venezuela,' because nobody in the Work had ever contradicted anything the Father had said."

To all this Father Francisco Vives added that I was "nothing and nobody in the Work." I recall his contempt and the gestures of disgust that accompanied his words during this "conversation."

It was his idea that I should go to confession immediately.

All seemed like a nightmare, although this conversation was almost a repetition of what Marlies Kucking had said to me in the previous days.

I understood that my confidences and confessions were manipulated and that, with the excuse of "helping me get out of the pothole," my soul was on public display.

It goes without saying that for a priest like Father Francisco Vives to describe such an array of past "misdeeds," he must first have spoken to Monsignor Escriva. Of this I had not the slightest doubt.

For months the tension was brutal and the confidences with Marlies Kucking were sheer torture.

In order to make my confidence with her I had to follow a routine: I had to telephone her to remind her that it was my day for the confidence and ask her what time was convenient for her. When I arrived punctually for our appointment, almost always at the visitors' parlor in La Montagnola, the women's central government house, there were times when she made me wait more than an hour. One day I told her that perhaps it would be "lack of spirit," but that I wanted to learn about the health of Begona, the numerary who had Hodgkin's disease. She told me that it was bad spirit, because I had to avoid thinking about anything or anybody that had to do with my stay in Venezuela.

Several Venezuelan numeraries studied in Villa delle Rose, seat of the Roman College of Santa Maria in Castelgandolfo. They had left the country a month before me. They were Mirentxu Landaluce, Mercedes Mujica, and Adeltina Mayorca. They had all belonged to local councils in different houses in Caracas before coming to Rome. Of course I had not seen them yet. I remember that the central directress told me shortly after my arrival in Rome to go with Montse Amat, a Catalonian who was prefect of studies, to visit Villa delle Rose. We arrived, and -- surprise! -- the students had all gone on an excursion. Only Adeltina Mayorca and a member of the local council, Blanca Nieto, who was the subdirector of the press, when I left Rome the first time were there. I might have swallowed the story better if Montse Amat, who was in the central advisory, had not told me that she "didn't know that they had an excursion." I realized that they did not want me to meet the students nor that they should meet me. I remembered the Venezuelan saying, "What is one more stripe for a tiger," and I let the matter go.

These pupils came to Rome almost weekly to lunch or an afternoon snack in the central house. Marlies Kucking ordered me not to speak to any Venezuelans. One day when she saw me speak to one of them on the staircase, she subjected me to a grueling interrogation, as well as the other person, I later discovered.

Marlies asked me what topics we had mentioned in the conversation, if we had spoken of Venezuela, about what and about whom. She repeated the interrogation altering the order of the questions. It was a secret-police interrogation. The most normal things were interpreted as "war crimes." What I did not realize then was that these methods of asking about the same thing a thousand times is exactly what is done by the security forces in all repressive regimes. What is intolerable is that in the name of God and the church, Opus Dei would use such an approach to "obtain information." After all, the Inquisition was abolished centuries ago. Here, again, the Opus Dei system is identical to that of any sect.

A few days after Monsignor Escriva gave me the first admonition, Marlies Kucking, called me to the central government soggiorno and informed me that I was no longer directress of the Venezuelan region, and by indication of the Father she was giving me a copy of the rescript, number 215, as a subject for meditation. This rather long note, written by Monsignor Escriva, says that cargos son cargas, offices are burdens and should be left with the same joy with which they had been undertaken. I told Marlies that I had already done my mental prayer that afternoon, but that I would use the rescript for meditation the following day. Just in passing, I asked her: "Who is regional directress now?" The question greatly irritated her. She said:

"You must understand, Carmen, it is lack of tact and discretion to ask that question. It should no longer matter to you. How could such a question occur to you? Don't you understand?" "No, I don't understand. But it's all the same. I accept it fully."

Given the isolation to which I was subjected, I asked Marlies in one of my confidences if the canonical admonition carried any penalties. She told me it did not.

I put the same question to the central directress, Mercedes Morado, and she told me the same. Both Marlies and Mercedes told me that nobody "oppressed" me, that it was "my imagination." They also added that everything they did was by the Father's indication to facilitate my spiritual recovery. I asked permission several times to go out and the answer was always, "No."

Mrs. de Sosa's Visit

My friend from Venezuela, Ana Teresa Rodriguez de Sosa arrived in Rome in December, 1965.

She telephoned the house, and by some coincidence, I answered the phone, since I was the only one present who spoke Italian. She asked for me, but naturally, following the "rules," I did not identify myself, notified the central directress by intercom that Mrs. de Sosa was on the phone, and switched the call to her office.

That day I prayed to God with all my soul that I would be allowed to see Ana Teresa. That night Marlies told me to call Mrs. de Sosa at her hotel, saying that I was out when she called (another lie) and that she could come to see me the following afternoon.

When I called the hotel, Mrs. de Sosa -- who was not bashful -- told me that it seemed very odd that I had not returned her call until the evening, since she had called me several times, which I did not know.

"Child, everything seems strange. I have called you several times and you haven't answered. Are you being held prisoner so you can't answer my calls?," she added half jokingly.

Since I feared someone might be listening on the government office phone, which was connected to mine, I answered in French that indeed, I was, and that she should do everything possible and impossible to speak to me alone when she came to see me the next day.

Lourdes Toranzo was the numerary who had attended Mrs. de Sosa on her previous visits to Rome. It annoyed me extraordinarily when she referred to this woman "to whom it was necessary to attend because she made large contributions to the Work," without a touch of genuine affection. Lourdes mentioned that Mrs. de Sosa had told her she would bring flowers for the oratory in the morning. It so happened that following morning, a Peruvian numerary who had been in charge of the oratories was showing me how the electrical master switches worked. They were located near the delivery door, which the concierge had opened while she cleaned the entrance. Suddenly I recognized Mrs. de Sosa's voice. Seeing the delivery door open and the servant there, she left her orchids for the oratory and turned away. Instinctively, I rushed out that door to catch her, since I was afraid they would not let me speak with her alone that afternoon; but Mrs. de Sosa did not see me for she had gotten into her taxi and was heading toward Bruno Buozzi. Although I was outside for less than a minute and a half, the concierge had immediately reported by intercom to the advisory that I had set foot in the street. (The idiom was never more literal.)

When I rejoined the Peruvian numerary at the switch box, I said: ''I'm afraid that they are going to scold me for having tried to greet Mrs. de Sosa." "The way they are treating you is ridiculous," the girl replied, "but I don't think they will." At just that moment Marlies appeared, looking incensed. (In the midst of it all God conserved my sense of humor and, when she and Mercedes were furious, they reminded me of Walt Disney's weasels showing their teeth.) Marlies asked: "What happened with Mrs. de Sosa?"

I explained I had heard her voice and gone out in order to greet her. Furious, she continued: "If you go on this way, we will have to take stronger and harsher measures with you, more vigorous measures. What you have done is intolerable! You have broken a firm order not to leave the house."

I begged her pardon, but I was sure there would be reprisals. That same afternoon I was waiting for them to announce Mrs. de Sosa's arrival. At the precise moment when the concierge announced that the lady had arrived, Marlies told me that Lourdes Toranzo would be present during the visit and would bring Mrs. de Sosa to the Villa Sacchetti soggiorno. I had no choice but to agree. I arrived at the visitors' parlor and Mrs. de Sosa was alone. I handed her a letter I had written and went out to call Marlies by intercom to say Lourdes had not arrived. Marlies said it didn't matter, that it was all right, but that "I should try to make the visit short."

When I returned to the parlor, Mrs. de Sosa said that Lourdes Toranzo had shown up to accompany us, but that she had told Lourdes that she had already seen her the day before and that she wanted to see me and to speak with me. We went up to the Villa Sacchetti soggiorno and I chose a place to sit down that was out of reach of the microphone installed in this room. (Monsignor Escriva had ordered several microphones installed in different places in the house, all connected with his room.) One of them was in the soggiorno or living room, another in the oratory, another in the ironing room, another in the kitchen, another in the hall in the servants quarters; and also in several places in the central advisory house, La Montagnola.

Rapidly, I explained my situation to Mrs. de Sosa and I gave her a sheet of paper to read later, saying that the only way that they would let me go to have lunch with her was to extend the invitation in the same note that enclosed an extra donation to the Work. She sent a thousand dollars for the Work in a check made out to me. They had no choice but to let me go to have lunch with her alone, although I was instructed that, if I went out at twelve-thirty, I ought to be back at three.

I was completely open with Ana Teresa and described everything that was happening and what they had said to me: Her reaction was, "The Father must be getting senile, because what they have done to you is an injustice." She bought me stamps so that I could write as much as I wanted and told me that she would write to me care of General Delivery, Rome. She acted in every way as a true friend. Her first reaction was that I should not return to Villa Sacchetti but stay with her. I said no, that there was a general congress scheduled in Opus Dei's Women's Branch and that I was convinced that things were going to change.

But this optimism was temporary, and when I was back in my room at Opus Dei, my spirits sank as I realized I could not even phone Ana Teresa without breaking the rules that had been imposed on me. However, the prison mentality stimulated by my involuntary reclusion had made me aware that there was a brief time -- not more than two minutes -- when I could use the telephone without being heard. The day before Ana Teresa's return to Venezuela, while I was cleaning the entrance area of the men's house, I realized there was an outside phone, and at considerable risk, I used it. I called her very early. I told her that I was thinking of leaving the Work, because neither my mind nor my physical strength were going to last much longer. I was trying to eat as much as I could to survive, but in spite of that, from mid-October to mid-December I had lost almost twenty pounds and my hair had turned completely white. They had broken me. Although Mrs. de Sosa tried to console me as best she could, I felt profoundly alone when I hung up and she left that day.
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