The guiding hand of faith

  • 2009-09-17
  • Interview by Rokas M. Tracevskis

Bryan P. Bradley, an American with no Lithuanian roots, has been working with the Catholic organization Opus Dei in Lithuania for many years. In 1994, he decided to settle and work in Lithuania. Bradley is now fluent in Lithuanian. Opus Dei became widely known throughout the non-Catholic world largely thanks to Dan Brown's book The Da Vinci Code. Now Bradley is a project manager at the Baltic Management Institute in Vilnius. He previously wrote about the Baltic region for news agencies Reuters and Bloomberg, whose first Baltic office he opened in Vilnius.

What do you think about The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown? Is the picture it presents of Opus Dei realistic?
The Da Vinci Code is pure fiction. It has some entertainment value, judging by sales, but fails ridiculously on substance. It's just musings on the author's conspiracy-theory view of the world. The book and movie did spark a lot of public discussion of the historical basis of Christianity and the Church, which many people don't realize are so strong. So that's positive. All the hype also made more people aware of Opus Dei. A lot of people inquired what the organization is really like.

Tell us more about Opus Dei's activities in Lithuania and the other Baltic countries.
Opus Dei has been active in the Baltic countries since they regained independence. I first came to Lithuania in 1992 to help organize a youth summer camp. Opus Dei is just a small part of the Catholic Church that contributes in its own way to spreading the Christian message in society. Its members are ordinary Christians who try to understand their faith very well and then really live it in all the aspects of their lives 's at home, at work and so on. They struggle to work well and be good friends, good parents, trying to make all their efforts a real service to the people around them and to the needs of society. That's their way of serving God.
In Vilnius, Kaunas, Riga and Tallinn there are centers of Opus Dei, where people can attend classes about Catholic faith and piety or get personal spiritual guidance. There are also already several social initiatives in the region promoted in part by members of Opus Dei: youth clubs, student residences, courses on parenting skills, volunteer activities to help the less fortunate.

The media says that there is a bigger percentage of people from business, finance and politics in Opus Dei than in other Catholic organizations. Is it true? Why?
You can find some bankers and business persons and even politicians in Opus Dei, since those are all honest professions that can be carried out with a Christian spirit and an attitude of service to society. But among Opus Dei members 's there are about 85,000 around the world 's you'll find a lot more people of modest social status: farmers and bus drivers, school teachers, medics, the occasional university professor. They don't make headlines, but they contribute just as much to society and the Church with their hard work and Christian example.

How do you find the situation of Roman Catholicism in Lithuania now?
Very positive. Most people consider themselves Catholic and at least sometimes go to church. You see more and more solid young priests, families that really practice their faith, public debates on social issues where the voice of Catholic-minded intellectuals is heard and respected. The Church is recovering from the Soviet era ban on religious instruction. The faith stayed alive thanks to some heroic people, but restored independence found a country where, despite the many Catholic hearts, few had a Catholic mind. They felt Catholic but didn't really understand the faith, its rational basis and guiding principles. In a world of aggressive secularism and materialism, that's important. And huge steps have been taken in this area of religious education for both young people and adults.

You were a reporter for Reuters in Lithuania and opened the Baltic office of Bloomberg News. Was it a challenging job?
It was an exhilarating job. These have been years of huge change in the Baltic economies and societies. Whether in boom or in bust, this is one of the most dynamic corners of Europe, and it was fun trying to bring the world's attention to that fact. Sure, there were challenging and stressful elements, especially when covering political issues where it's hard to get at the objective facts. My more significant articles would sometimes get printed in newspapers around the world, from China to Texas. But I always thought the biggest achievement was when the Baltic media used my stories, since that meant I was a step ahead of even local journalists.

Tell us more about the Baltic Management Institute where you work now.
BMI is a consortium of European universities that teamed up in 1999 to offer world-class management studies for business leaders in Lithuania and neighboring countries. About 50 high-level executives are accepted into the BMI International Executive MBA program every year. Courses and projects are all delivered in English by professors who fly in from business schools like HEC School of Management in Paris, which the Financial Times rates No. 1 in Europe. BMI's other partner schools are IAG-LSM in Belgium, Denmark's Copenhagen Business School, NHH in Norway and Vytautas Magnus University in Lithuania. I joined BMI two years ago, attracted by how much the school is doing to promote professionalism and integrity in the corporate world.

What are the short-term and long-term prospects for Lithuania's economy?
I don't think anyone doubts that the next year or two are going to be extremely challenging for all three Baltic economies. But I expect within five years the region will be back on track with steady growth, enjoying the benefits of EU membership and their own talented labor forces.

How will the world look in 30 years? Your forecast, please.
I expect that in 2039 political and economic power will be better balanced among the two hemispheres and the various continents, that the rhythm of life will be little changed, that intellectuals will devote much energy to the ethical implications of new technologies, especially biotechnologies, and that the most-prized holiday settings will be peace and quiet in low-tech nature settings. I think athletes will continue setting new records, scientists will find new sources of energy and food, and growing populations will come to be recognized as one of the most valuable resources any country can have. And I think we'll see a cultural shift away from secular materialism in favor of Christian humanism.

You like good food. What restaurants in Vilnius you would recommend?
I don't eat out much, but the most enjoyable meal I've had in Vilnius was at Rene, a restaurant in the Old Town inspired by the Belgian surrealist painter Rene Magritte. They make great food and have fun doing it. My favorite lunch spots are Trys Meksikieciai near the Cathedral, and Basil, beside the fountain on Europa Square, for a hot sandwich and a cold beer.