Queensland sect decides against mass suicide

Reuters, September 9, 1999
By Diana Taylor

BRISBANE - The leader of a religious sect in the Australian state of Queensland said on Thursday fears she would lead a fiery mass suicide on 9/9/99 were unfounded, and she was not intending to kill herself.

Journalist and TV crews descended on the town of Helidon, west of Brisbane, for the rumoured mass suicide but the only injury of the day was a smashed camera flash when a photographer got in the way of hired security guards.

And sect leader Debra Geileskey said a published vision of a Jonestown-style mass suicide had been merely a symbolic reference to the Church's move away from its original beliefs.

Geileskey had written in a diary she had a vision revealing she would be dragged from a wooden two-storey building, tied to a pile of sticks and set on fire by a priest on September 9, 1999.

After publication of the diary, Queensland police said they would monitor her "Magnificat Meal Movement" sect to head off any suicide attempts.

Geileskey said on Thursday she had re-interpreted her 1996 vision and denied it had any resemblance to her heroine, the 15th century French Catholic martyr Joan of Arc.

"For 12 months I have had these visions but they have been purely symbolic," Geileskey told Reuters in a telephone interview after keeping out of the public eye on Thursday.

"It refers to the lack of authenticity that is now part of the Catholic Church and how there should be a return to the original teachings."

Asked if her sect had any plans for a mass suicide, she said: "Definitely not, it's off."

The funeral pyre vision prompted police to set up a 24-hour watch since Tuesday in case Geileskey initiated a mass suicide of her blue-red clad followers, known as slaves.

But by Thursday, most of the police had left the small town, leaving a handful of journalists who were shown to a small corner in the grounds of the Magnificat Meal Movement and supervised by security guards and rottweilers for the day.

Geileskey slipped out the front gate and headed up the mountainous Great Dividing Range where security guards drove on both sides of the road to prevent following news crews from catching up.

Police issued an on-the-spot fine to one security guard for obstructing traffic after about 100 cars were held up on the mountain range and were considering other dangerous and reckless driving charges.

Queensland police spokesman Brian Swift said police would maintain a presence at the sect headquarters until Friday.

"Based on our own assesment and our direct dealings with Debra Geileskey, we are satisfied that any disaster is highly unlikely," Swift said.

In 1978, Jim Jones, a U.S. pastor, led hundreds of his followers to their deaths at Jonestown, Guyana, by drinking a cyanide-laced fruit drink.

Geileskey's sect, the Magnificat Meal Movement, broke away from the Catholic Church three years ago after she said she had received visions and prophecies from angels and the Virgin Mary.

Its name refers to the Magnificat, a prayer attributed to the Virgin Mary, and to the symbolic meal of the Eucharist.

Catholic Bishop William Morris recently urged churchgoers in an open letter to avoid the sect, which Geileskey said had branches in 73 countries and a following of five million people.

Father Ryan said the sect in Helidon comprised about 50 families and was decreasing in numbers.

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