VATICAN CITY, JAN. 9, 2001 ( The year of preparations for the centenary of the birth of Blessed Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer, founder of Opus Dei, began today. Blessed Escrivá was born in Barbastro, Spain, on January 9, 1902.

Among the initiatives for the celebrations is an important international congress, organized by the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, on the topic "The Greatness of Daily Life," which will be held in Rome from January 8-11, 2002.

There will be 8 general conferences during the congress, with over 60 talks and 18 working groups, in which intellectuals from all over the world, as well as men and women of various professions, will reflect on the influence of the Christian message of Blessed Escrivá in the different areas of daily life, including science, education, family, youth, solidarity, culture, communications, priesthood, and society.

Blessed Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer was ordained a priest in 1925. On October 2, 1928, during the course of Spiritual Exercises, he was inspired to found Opus Dei, a way of sanctification in the world, through the exercise of professional work and the fulfilment of ordinary family and social duties.

Blessed Escrivá died in Rome on June 26, 1975. He was beatified by John Paul II on May 7, 1992.

At present the faithful of the Opus Dei Prelature number more than 80,000, including 1,750 priests. Blessed Escriva´s best known work, "The Way," is a collection of spiritual thoughts, which has been published in 42 languages, in over 4 million copies.

Today, as part of the commemoration of the centenary of the birth of the founder of Opus Dei, Archbishop Jozef Zycinski of Lublin, Poland, presided over the presentation of the ninth Polish edition of "The Way," which was published in a special edition, as were two other works of the Blessed, "Furrow" and "Forge."

In recent days the first Russian biography of Blessed Escrivá was published in Moscow by Eugueny Pazukhin, an Orthodox religious thinker. Pazukhin is very much attracted by the figure and works of the Opus Dei founder.

The Russian biographer was born in St. Petersburg in 1945. For over 20 years, he secretly promoted Christian culture. At present he promotes the "Vladimir Soloviev" philosophical/religious society. Pazukhin believes that Blessed Escrivá´s message is an important link of union with the Catholic Church and a stimulus to reinforce the ecumenical efforts between the Russian Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches.