Interview With Expert Manuel Guerra
BURGOS, Spain, 2 FEB. 2007 (ZENIT)
The time has come in Latin America
to redefine what exactly is a sect, according to an expert on
Manuel Guerra, author of the "Encyclopedic Dictionary of Sects," and
consultor to the Spanish bishops' commission on interreligious affairs,
comments to ZENIT 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
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
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
chameleon-like 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
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
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
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?"
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
Pope John Paul II.
"The existence of sects is almost useful"
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.