Clergy warns of cult efforts to infiltrate Church
China doomsday cult angers both Church and State
When Joseph Gan found out exactly who the preachers were, he alerted his priest in Zhoucun, Shandong province, to spread a warning among other parishioners.
After encountering members of the Church of the Almighty God, he decided to check them out on an online Catholic forum. It was then that he discovered the group is a cult.
“What they said sounded quite reasonable and I was unable to distinguish at first,” said Gan.
According to the growing numbers of people coming into contact with the cult in eastern China, Almighty God believers have latched onto the December 21 Mayan doomsday prophecies for their latest recruitment drive.
Preachers have showed up on the street, in company offices and school campuses warning non-believers that their righteous path offers the only salvation from the end of the world tomorrow.
According to those who have heard their take on Christianity and the Mayan prophecies, members of the Church of the Almighty God ascribe all natural disasters to the coming doomsday.
Father Liu, also of Shandong, said six cult members joined his parish’s Bible-study gathering last week.
“They mentioned doomsday predictions. Parishioners and I stopped them immediately,” he said.
Coadjutor Bishop Peter Shao Zhumin of Wenzhou in Zhejiang province near Shanghai said his diocese required all catechists to get a mandate before going out to evangelize and asked laypeople not to invite catechists who have no Church mandate to preach at their homes and communities.
Priests have also given warnings in Mass homilies and in printed circulars to help people to distinguish cult members from genuine Christians.
Police have arrested more than 800 people for spreading doomsday rumors nationwide in recent weeks, the Beijing Times reported today, although it remains unclear how many were working on behalf of the Church of the Almighty God.
Previously known under names including Eastern Lightning and Second Savior Sect, the cult spread from central Henan province in eastern central China in the mid-1990s. Their preachings are based on Christianity but with extreme interpretations.
Followers spread the word of a female Christ who comes to conquer human hearts and defeat Satan. Those deciding not to accept her word would suffer a terrible death or severe punishment. Catholics and Protestants were the main targets.
In a country where religion is barely tolerated, reports of the cult's activities are murky and include accusations of kidnap, brainwashing – including of Catholic priests – and even torture.
A few years ago, the Chinese government outlawed the sect but it remains active in eastern provinces as well as in Hong Kong and Taiwan, reappearing this year under its new name Church of the Almighty God.
A Catholic teacher in Zhejiang province who identified herself only as Lucia said Eastern Lightening – as it was then known – spread to her parish in 2008.
“So far, more than 20 parishioners have joined the cult. Some converts even returned to the parish to entice new members,” she says.
In the past, the majority of converts were elderly women, adds Lucia, but more recently new recruits have been younger.
“They typically have deficiencies in their spiritual lives such as feeling disappointed with the Church or not receiving comfort when hurt,” she says. “Some also felt that their service was not being valued by the Church.”
Describing how she once secretly followed converts to their headquarters, Lucia noted the way that members of the Church of the Almighty God latch on to psychological and emotional weaknesses to connect with new recruits.
“Their sweet words and kindness earn your trust,” she says.
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