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Redefining Sects in Latin America

Interview With Expert Manuel Guerra

BURGOS, Spain, FEB. 3, 2007 (Zenit) - The time has come in Latin America to redefine what exactly is a sect, according to an expert on interreligious relations.

Manuel Guerra, author of the "Encyclopedic Dictionary of Sects," and consultor to the Spanish bishops' commission on interreligious affairs, comments to us in this interview about the need to come to an agreement on the characteristics of a sect.

Q: In May, the 5th General Conference of the Episcopate of Latin America will be held in Brazil. One of the topics to be discussed is sects. As an expert, what advice would you give the Church in Latin America on this subject?

Guerra: Latin America's experts on sects know their situation better than I do. The Ibero-American Network of Study on Sects has existed for just over a year; to date it is composed of more than 30 experts from all the Spanish and Portuguese-speaking countries.

It has already published a dozen editions of the electronic bulletin Info-RIES, which is sent free to more than 4,000 subscribers. It will soon have a Web page, which we believe is necessary to give information on sects in Spanish.

Nevertheless, I dare state what is obvious. It would be disastrous to fall into the temptation of thinking that evils come only, and above all, from the outside, that others are the evil ones.

In addition, the pillars of Christian life and spirituality must be strengthened, namely, doctrinal formation -- biblical, dogmatic, moral, liturgical, social -- interior vibration, people of prayer who pray, and true apostolic dynamism, which is the overflowing of personal holiness, of union with Jesus Christ after a personal encounter with him.

As a starting point, the merely passive or receptive interior attitude must be uprooted, which then promotes the maturation of a critical sense. This is to listen, and to teach others to listen, to others and to the radio critically, to read the press, to watch television and films, critically. In other words, to do all this according to a criterion which, for Catholics, is that of reason enlightened by faith or divine revelation, interpreted in the light of the magisterium of the Church.

It would be decisive and timely to come to an agreement on the defining features of a sect.

In Latin America the name "sect" is also given to the countless groups of the evangelical movement, as well as to its two strongest branches -- Pentecostalism and Protestant fundamentalism.

If Catholics call Protestants sects, and they call the Catholic Church a sect, and there are those that do, what then isn't a sect?

There is also the need to elaborate a series of practical pastoral norms. Among them, for example, not to allow sects and so-called Methods of Human Potential to use the premises of Catholic centers -- schools, houses of spirituality, etc.

This use has been made and it continues to be made, though it is a chameleonlike manipulation, as a tactic of evil proselytism.

It is a means to wear down the initial resistance of possible participants and, above all -- if they are minors -- of their parents or tutors.

The latter run the risk of concluding that the content of the conferences and sectarian retreat days is compatible with Christian faith and morality simply because of the premises where they are held.

Q: Do you think sects are increasing, or is today the hour of the great religions?

Guerra: To be fragmented and divided is easy, even comfortable, though it can sometimes be traumatic. I cannot say with certainty if the number of sects, as well as of their members, is increasing.

Instead, the increase of the so-called Methods of Human Potential is evident: transcendental meditation, Reiki, Tai Chi Chuan, yoga, Zen, Dianetics, Silva Method, Latin American Association of Human Development, Sahaja yoga, human and universal energy, etc.

The above groups say they use psycho-technical procedures for the full development of hidden forces of the human mind.

A Christian can practice them as psycho-techniques, but aware that techniques usually are ways to come to a non-Christian religious or ideological goal. As a proselytizing tactic, it remains concealed, at least in the initial steps or sessions.

It is sad to see that not a few Catholics, especially women, dedicate several hours a week to the practice of Methods of Human Potential, but say they do not have the time to spend a moment daily in Christian prayer.

Certainly now that the initial torrent is over and the fascination with the new and unknown diminishes, "the hour of the great religions" is striking, at least as a reaction to so much superficiality, subjectivism and sentimentalism.

Sects are a sign of our time and a pastoral challenge for the Church. So we should ask ourselves: What is God saying to us through the sects? And, like St. Paul, ask Jesus Christ: "What shall I do, Lord?" -- Acts 22:9.

But, in addition to being a sign and challenge or precisely because they are such, sects must be a "kairos," an "opportunity" of new and renewed evangelization -- Pope John Paul II.

"The existence of sects is almost useful" -- 1 Corinthians 11:19 -- as long as it leads us to their study as well as to diligence in knowing the teachings of Christ and in being united with him, comments St. Augustine.


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Sects, Guerra, Spain, Religion

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