Opus Dei, a Catholic institution made (in)famous by the 2003 mystery novel “The Da Vinci Code,” will provide spiritual guidance to Christian pilgrims in a new visitors’ complex being constructed outside Jerusalem.
Saxum, a project comprising a conference center and multimedia resource center, is located between Kibbutz Maaleh HaHamisha and the Arab village of Abu Ghosh, 15 kilometers (10 miles) west of Jerusalem. Construction on the site began in 2013, and is scheduled for completion in 2015.
Founded by Spanish priest Josemaría Escrivá in 1928, Opus Dei describes its mission as “helping people turn their work and daily activities into occasions for growing closer to God, for serving others, and for improving society.” Opus Dei was approved by the Catholic Church in 1950.
According to the Saxum website, the conference center will include 50 guestrooms, two chapels, and classrooms. The multimedia center will serve to train tour guides and use state-of-the art technology to introduce visitors to Jerusalem’s Christian sites.
One of Saxum’s goals is to promote Christian pilgrimage to Israel. The Saxum Foundation, an Italian nonprofit, estimates that some 30,000 visitors will pass through the center every year.
Latin for “work of God” and comprising mostly laypeople, Opus Dei has been criticized for its secretiveness and recruitment methods, especially with regards to the recruitment of minors.
The practice of corporal mortification, or the endurance of a minor amount of suffering, is considered one of the more controversial practices of Opus Dei. Some celibate members of the institution wear the cilice, a metal chain with prongs strapped to the thigh.
However, some 70-75% of Opus Dei’s estimated 90,000 members are supernumeraries, or non-celibate laypeople who lead regular professional lives.