Widow, mom of 12, leads group accused of cult-like practices

Sun Star/July 10, 2003
By Linette C. Ramos

A group of Sto. Niño devotees in Borbon town, Cebu believe that the Holy Child, the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Virgin Mary have instructed their leader to spread the gospel.

Because of their practices, some parishioners in the area have branded them as a cult.

But Hermina Mante, Sister Nenen to her thousands of followers, said they are not one. She just obeys orders from the Blessed Virgin and the Holy Child.

She said the Sto. Niño has also asked her to spread peace in Mindanao and to stop abortion and drug addiction.

Devotees of the Sto. Niño in Barangay Bingay, Borbon said the Virgin Mary, the Sacred Heart and the Sto. Niño have been using Mante as an instrument to evangelize and serve the people since 1982.

Mante and her pastors do their mission by praying the rosary, reading the Bible everyday and preaching during Sunday prayer meetings.

But Pas de Roda, vice president of the Borbon parish pastoral council, said the group's practices are cultic.

Although its children's choir is allowed to sing during the 10 a.m. Sunday mass at the San Sebastian Parish in Borbon, the group's practices are not accepted in the Catholic community there.

"They are tolerated but they are not accepted because their practices border on cultism. They do some things that only priests are allowed to do," de Roda told Sun.Star. She said Mante even blesses homes and gives advice on how to rid them of evil spirits.

The followers believe their leader can help them win the lottery, land a new job and cure their illnesses. Women wearing jewelry and pants, and those who come in "indecent" attire are not allowed to prayer meetings.

Some of the parishioners also believe that Mante, a widow, is using the devotion to solicit money to support her 12 children.

To avoid conflict, Borbon parish priest Fr. Eric Jecong doesn't meddle in the activities of Mante's group. Most of Mante's 1,000 followers are not from Borbon.

Every Sunday, thousands of devotees from other municipalities gather at the chapel in Bingay to listen to her talk. People from other towns in Cebu, and from Mindanao and Leyte also come to ask Mante to cure them of their illnesses and to help them ask for Sto. Niño's blessings.

"The Sto. Niño, the Sacred Heart and the Blessed Virgin only have to tell her what to do," Editha Branzuela, Mante's sister, said.

She can tell who is speaking to her by the voice: if it's a loud voice, it's the Sacred Heart; a tiny voice, it's the Sto. Niño; a soft voice, it's the Virgin Mary.

In a separate interview at the group's chapel yesterday, Mante lamented how some sectors branded them as a cult when they don't know the group yet.

She said the group believes in the teachings of the Catholic Church and practices them, including the rosary, confession and the mass.

Like the Catholic Church, her group also campaigns for peace and fights drug addiction, promiscuity, gambling and witchcraft.

In healing, Mante asks the sick to drink holy water, which she said, is also being used by the priest.

"If we were a cult, the Sto. Niño wouldn't have allowed us near a church. The more they label us as cult, the stronger we become in our faith," Mante said.

She also denied collecting money from followers. If at all, her followers give money voluntarily.

"Nobody is forced to join us and no one is forced to pay us anything. Why call us a cult when we are only serving and carrying out the mission the Sto. Niño gave us?" Mante said in Cebuano.

Mante said she will continue with her mission and will work on spreading peace in Mindanao. That's the most recent mission she said she has been told to do.

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