A huge crowd turned out in the Vatican's St. Peter's Square for the canonization mass of Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer. The controversial Spanish priest was the founder of the conservative Roman Catholic group, Opus Dei.

Pope John Paul II urged believers from all over the world to follow the teachings of the Spanish priest.

Addressing in Spanish the thousands gathered in St. Peter's Square for the canonization mass, the pope said Josemaria Escriva's ideal was to elevate the world to God, and transform it from within. He reminds us, the pope said, that one should not fear a materialist culture, which threatens the most genuine identity of Christ's disciples.

Pilgrims arrived from more than 80 countries to take part in the mass. Among them was Mark Holton, who came from New Jersey and said Escriva was a truly saintly man who has been of great inspiration for thousands of people.

"He allows people to understand that they can sanctify their life in a very real way, in the middle of the world, through their work, through their friends, through their family," said Mr. Holton.

Among those present at the mass was Manuel Nevado Rey, a doctor whose recovery from a debilitating skin disease was considered a miracle, and attributed to Escriva's intercession.

Also in the crowd was Martha Tomski, who came from the Czech Republic. She said Escriva taught that sanctity can be found in the midst of ordinary life, and that one's professional life is a means of sanctification. She rejected any criticism that his canonization had been very quick. The founder of Opus Dei was canonized just 27 years after his death.

"With modern technology, it is possible to canonize people quicker than before," said Ms. Tomski. "But also, I think, it's a special grace from God, because blessed Josemaria has been maligned so much, that God has allowed him to be canonized so quickly."

The Spanish priest has been criticized for allegedly lacking the virtues that make a saint and for having set up an elitist and secretive society. But his followers dismiss such charges.

Escriva was canonized in record time, a sign that despite the criticism, the pope sees the group with favor. Escriva de Balaguer became the 468th saint proclaimed by Pope John Paul II.