Vodafone sponsors students at Opus Dei college

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The Independent Online

On the eve of the release of the movie version of The Da Vinci Code, a link has emerged between the secretive Catholic society at the centre of the mystery, Opus Dei, and the British mobile phone giant Vodafone.

In the film, and Dan Brown's novel on which it was based, Opus Dei ruthlessly guards the secret at the heart of the Catholic church, that Jesus married and had children. In reality, the society, formed in 1920s Spain, maintains traditional Catholic values and counts the Cabinet minister Ruth Kelly among its number. This has caused controversy because of Opus Dei's stance against homosexuality.

Opus Dei runs a network of colleges around the world, the largest and oldest being Centro ELIS on the outskirts of Rome, founded in 1965 by Pope John XXIII. He entrusted Opus Dei with the running of this and later colleges, whose statutes include promoting Catholic values.

Vodafone, through its Italian subsidiary, has been supporting ELIS for some years. It funds two students a year to study there, provides engineers and business leaders as lecturers, and sponsors courses, networking events and projects.

"It is a college that a lot of companies benefit from because of the sharing of business and technical skills," said a spokesman.

Vodafone is not the only international company to support ELIS. Cisco Systems, the US technology giant, sponsors a programme at the college while Nokia, Hewlett-Packard, Telecom Italia and Sky Italia, an associate company of BSkyB, are all prominent backers.

But none of these businesses can match Chilean wine maker Vina Concha y Toro, whose chief executive, Eduardo Guilisasti, donates his entire salary to ELIS and its near-100 associate schools, stretching around the world from Vietnam to Mexico.