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Friday 05 May 2006


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Published in: current issue
Issue: 6 May 2006

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Opus Dei is so normal it’s scary
Mary Wakefield


Next Olivia, 21, pink ballet shoes, pink top. ‘My mum met The Work through her dentist. I wasn’t that interested, but then I went to an Opus school in Nairobi in my gap year, and when I came back I found I wanted to take my faith seriously. Now I’m much happier!’ Then Nadia, another former Ashwell resident; and by the time Mary, 22, wandered in, I felt like a GP. Hello, sit down, how are you today? Any aches and pains? ‘When things bother me, I can ask for help,’ said Mary. ‘I thought I’d hate it, but you feel like the people here actually do care about you.’

Another articulate girl in fashionable trainers, another 20 minutes of almost non-stop eye contact. I stared, for a change, at a row of ceramic donkeys on the windowsill — which an ex-Opus Dei friend of mine told me stand somewhere in every Opus house, symbolising the need to work for God.

Everyone seemed well turned out, clever, devout, but where were the regular messed-up folk? Where were Dan Brown’s freaks, his everyday weirdos?

Eileen and Sam came back with a typically efficient press pack and a ‘List of names for Mary Wakefield, Ashwell House, 1 May 2006’. So what about a disabled member? I asked. Someone who is unable to work, and therefore unable to support herself financially as Opus Dei rules require? Would they receive any financial help? ‘They would have the usual income support from the government,’ said Eileen, ‘and there’s always work to do. There’s someone here who has MS, for instance, and she has a lovely little job on reception.’ And do the elderly get any financial help after a hard life donating every bean? ‘It’s important that they do the work they can. Your work gives you self-esteem,’ said Eileen.

Before I left, Sam admitted that the hype around The Da Vinci Code sometimes got her down. ‘It’s been a great opportunity for us but also difficult,’ she said. ‘We’ve been afraid of the press in the past, but we’re beginning to realise that not all journalists are out to get you. Some of them,’ she said cautiously, ‘can be normal human beings.’


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