BEYOND THE THRESHOLD -- A LIFE IN OPUS DEI
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  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  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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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:
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.  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.
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,"  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  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." 
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.
JUNIORS, CLUBS, ACTIVITY CENTERS
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. 
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.  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.
OPUS DEI SCHOOLS
"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.
UNIVERSITY RESIDENCES: ORIGIN AND GOALS
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.
A. THE INSTITUCION LIBRE DE ENSENAZA
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,  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.  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.
B. BOARD FOR ADVANCED RESEARCH AND COUNCIL OF SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH (JUNTA DE AMPLIACION DE ESTUDIOS. CONSEJO SUPERIOR DE INVESTIGACIONES CIENTIFICAS)
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).  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.
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. 
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
months to live. She had a virulent cancer. Opus Dei priests
in Maracaibo were Father Francisco de Guruceaga
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.