Cult Ceases Worship Of National Hero Jose Rizal

2005-01-24 00:00:00

After the world did not end in 2000, members of a cult in the Philippines began to abandon its belief that national hero Doctor Jose Rizal was divine.

"Rizal mentioned in some of his writings that the God whom he knew is holy and great," Norito Cabotaje, leader of one of about 25 cults or sects centered on Rizal, told UCA News recently.

"This means that Rizal admitted God is beyond human comprehension. If he whom we consider God for years would admit to such an inferior nature, then why should we enthrone him as God?" the presiding elder asked.

They also found out that the man they worshipped as God regularly read and studied the Bible, Cabotaje continued.

"We too followed his footsteps and example by reading the Bible and studying it well," he said, adding that a true member of the cult has no other basis for his faith but the teachings of the national hero.

Cabotaje is a member of the Council of Elders of one of four sects that broke off from Iglesia Watawat ng Lahi (IWLI, Church of the flag of the race), in the late 1980s. His sect, known as IWLI-Presiding Elder, is registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission as a religious group.

Rizal was a patriot, physician and author whose life and literary works inspired the nationalist movement in the late 1800s, when the Philippines was a Spanish colony. The colonial rulers executed him on Dec. 30, 1896, in Manila on allegations of conspiring with rebels to overthrow the government.

The earliest record of the identification of Rizal as the Filipino Christ is the 1930 canonization of Rizal and three martyr priests -- Jose Burgos, Mariano Gomez, Jacinto Zamora -- by the Philippine Independent Church.

IWLI members believed Rizal would be resurrected and re-emerge from his hiding place inside Mount Makiling, near his birthplace of Calamba City, to liberate the nation at the end of the world. The group predicted this would happen in 2000. Calamba is about 45 kilometers southeast of Manila.

The IWLI performed rites similar to the Sacraments of the Catholic Church -- except the Sacrament of Reconciliation -- and conducted healing sessions invoking the power the cult attributed to Rizal as the reincarnation of Jesus Christ.

With the founding of IWLI-Presiding Elder in 1987, its Council of Elders began a review of their three sacred books -- the Bible and Rizal´s two novels -- as well as writings of elders of the Rizal cult. "The new teaching was introduced to the people only two years ago," Cabotaje said.

Divine Word Father Leonardo Mercado, executive secretary of the Philippine bishops´ Episcopal Commission on Inter-Religious Dialogue, told UCA News he does not know what prompted the "Rizalista" sect to change its doctrine.

The Catholic missiologist and anthropologist has studied cults in the Philippines and Rizal, and written books on these topics. He said that even though he keeps himself updated on the goings-on in the Rizalista movement, this is the first time he has heard of this new teaching.

Rizalistas may have started a deeper study of Rizal after the millennium resurrection and salvation failed to take place as predicted, but not because of the failure of Rizal, the priest speculated on Jan. 11. He wondered whether the reflection was inspired by the failure of the leaders to understand what Rizal was saying.

They probably would blame this on their own failings and lack of faith, Father Mercado explained, expecting that the group would opt to blame human weakness rather than face the prospect of admitting it chose the wrong leader.

"Rizalistas and millennium groups amount to hundreds of sects throughout the Philippines, and it would be difficult to determine why they demoted Rizal no matter what they said," he added.

IWLI-Presiding Elder also has become open to adopting lessons and philosophies from Buddhists, Catholics and Protestants.

Cabotaje said that today they do not profess a distinctive identity for the "Supreme Being" they consider "God." They just call their deity the "origin of all things."

He added that they believe in a god of ultimate love who would not allow his people to be subjected to tragedies and calamities.

"Those tragedies that happen like the tsunami, which killed thousands of innocent people, are part of the order of things. They are natural occurrences, which had to happen no matter what," he added.

Today, the cult´s big church on top of a hill in Lecheria village, Calamba City, has been converted to a multipurpose building that includes a school for people who want to study Rizal´s writings.

Rizal´s two famous novels are "Noli Me Tangere" (touch me not) and "El Filibusterismo" (the filibuster). In his writing he criticized "self-serving friars and abusive military and civilian leaders."


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