“Opus Dei's main activity consists in offering its members, and other people, the spiritual means they need to live as good Christians in the midst of the world," explained its founder.
The faithful of the Prelature attend weekly classes called “circles", dealing with doctrinal and ascetical topics, and a monthly day of recollection, a time for personal prayer and reflection on topics to do with Christian life. In addition, they attend an annual retreat lasting three to five days. Similar activities are also offered to the cooperators, to young people, and to anyone else who wishes to attend.
This formation is given in the centers of the Prelature and in other appropriate places. For example, a circle may be given at the home of one of the people who attend, and a day of recollection may be held in a church whose parish priest permits it to be used for that purpose.
Personal testimony is always the most important apostolate in Opus Dei. It is an apostolate of witness, of specific and effective help given to others, at work and in the other circumstances of daily life: a personal apostolate carried out through word and example. As a result, members' apostolic work is not limited to specific fields such as education, or care for the sick or disabled. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us, all Christians, whatever their secular occupation may be, ought to help to find Christian solutions to the problems of society and give constant witness to their faith.
The faithful of the Prelature, with the assistance of the cooperators of Opus Dei and many others, sometimes undertake charitable or educational initiatives that entrust their spiritual and doctrinal orientation to the Prelature. These initiatives are called "corporate" apostolates to distinguish them from the personal apostolate of members, which is Opus Dei's primary apostolate.
Among these corporate apostolic works are secondary schools, universities, women's centers, medical clinics in underdeveloped areas, schools for farm workers, institutes for professional education, student residences and cultural centers. The Prelature does not involve itself in any profit-making, commercial or political ventures.
Corporate apostolic works are owned and managed by those who initiated them and not by the Prelature of Opus Dei, which assumes responsibility only for their spiritual and doctrinal orientation. Each undertaking is financed in the same way as any other similar institution: e.g., by residential fees, grants, donations, etc. Corporate works regularly run at a loss, given the type of work they undertake and the fact that they are not intended to be profit-making. For this reason, in addition to donations from the faithful of Opus Dei and from the cooperators and others, they may receive official subsidies from government agencies, as well as grants from private foundations or companies.
Several examples of corporate apostolic works
- The University of Navarre, founded in Pamplona, Spain, in 1952. It has 20 faculties and institutes. The Pamplona campus also includes a university hospital. A business school, the Institute for Higher Business Studies (IESE), is located in Barcelona. Other educational initiatives at tertiary level promoted by faithful of Opus Dei in cooperation with other people include the University of Piura (Peru), the University of La Sabana (Colombia), and the University of Asia and the Pacific (Philippines).
- Monkole, in Kinshasa, is a hospital which every year attends to thousands of people in situations of extreme need. Medical assistance is also given at traveling dispensaries at two other locations outside the capital (Eliba and Kimbondo). Attached to Monkole is the Higher Institute of Nursing, which prepares young Congolese women for the nursing profession.
- Punlaan, in Manila, is a specialist professional school for the catering and tourist industry. Its educational system includes direct contact with hotels and restaurants, and in the last few years, 100% of the young women who have studied at Punlaan have been able to find suitable employment.
- Midtown Sports and Cultural Center in Chicago, situated in a multiracial neighbourhood where many young people live, offers programs providing academic, human, spiritual, and athletic formation. The programs help compensate for the some of the deficiencies in the local social environment. Of Midtown's students, 95% finish high school, and 60% – a figure well above the average for young people in that area – go on to college.
- Toshi, to the west of Mexico City, is an educational institute for women in a rural area populated by numerous ethnic groups. Among other activities, it offers administrative training to help women find positions in business and public life in nearby cities.