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At least 100 members of a religious cult were missing in northern Colombia after they went to rendezvous with a UFO they believed would save them from “the end of the world,” relatives said on Thursday. ”My daughter told me she had to leave because a cataclysm was going to occur, and that she had to go to a high place to meet extraterrestrials who would save them from the end of the world,” said Andrea de Echenique, whose daughter, Maria Bernarda, is among the missing. The followers of the so-called Stella Maris Church, which describes itself as a gnostic organization, headed out to the Sierra Nevada mountains in two groups on Friday and over the weekend. A police spokesman in the Caribbean resort of Cartagena, where most of the cult members lived, said they had received reports that the group had disappeared. Up until now, there had been no known reports of doomsday cults operating in Colombia. But in 1978, South America was the scene of the worst mass suicide ever when more than 900 American followers of the People’s Temple killed themselves in Jonestown, Guyana. Cartagena police said, however, that no search operation had been mounted since there was no indication that the Stella Maris cult was planning mass suicide, or that any of the members had been forced to go along against their will. ”The leader of the group told them the world was going to end in August and that they had to go to the Sierra Nevada to meet some aliens,” said Pedro Perez. Four of his relatives are missing with the other cult members. Leaders of a gnostic group in Bogota said it did not have any links with the Stella Maris group but had heard reports of its beliefs. ”People had told us that certain practices of the Stella Maris group were fanatical and dogmatic…. Over the last two years they had been talking about a meeting with UFOs,” said Wilson Martinez, a gnostic “archbishop” in Bogota. Martinez said gnostics believe in the spiritual but not the historical existence of Christ and looked to “free their souls with knowledge.” Family members have accused Rogelio Perea, self-styled head of the Stella Maris cult, of swindling his followers out of their homes, property, and money. They also say he forced members to sever ties with their families. ”The two leaders told my daughter Liliana that she was God’s chosen one and made her change her name to Stella Maris to brainwash her. She was convinced she was going to make contact with flying saucers,” said Mariela Tovar. But others close to the Stella Maris group believe its 100 or so members have simply gone on a routine spiritual retreat and accuse relatives and the media of exaggerating the story.
Originally posted by FlipSwitch
”People had told us that certain practices of the Stella Maris group were fanatical and dogmatic…
The two leaders told my daughter Liliana that she was God’s chosen
The Stella Maris Gnostic Church, one of a number of South American Gnostic sect groups, was founded in 1989 by Rodolfo Perez and former members of the Universal Christian Gnostic Movement…The small group rose out of its obscurity in the larger occult milieu in June of 1999.
In June, the group went on its annual retreat. The day after the small group (fewer than 100 members) departed for the retreat, Colombian papers carried stories that the group had departed for the Sierra Nevada mountains to meet a spaceship that would take them to another world.
The story was picked up by international wire services, carried worldwide, and tied to memories of the suicide of the 39 members of Heaven's Gate.
However, within 24 hours of the story breaking, Perez and several members of the group went on television, denied that they had any interest in flying saucers, and said that they would return to Cartegena as usual when their retreat was over. The retreat was taking place near San Pedro, Colombia, as the media had been informed some weeks previously. El Tiempo, the leading daily newspaper, had run the initial story without checking the facts that they had at hand.
The follow-up story of the group was carried by the Colombian press, but no follow-up appeared in the English-language media for almost a year when Fortean Times finally broke the story of the hoax in its May 2000 issue. Meanwhile, the Stella Maris Gnostic Church returned to its routine life in Cartegena.