A millennial movement is growing rapidly in Peru, tapping into the nation’s tradition of messianic fervor.
Millennial Stew (Summer), the newsletter of Boston University’s Center for Millennial Studies, reports that the popularity of the 200,000-strong Israelites of the New Covenant stems from the history of both Christian millennialism and existing messianic ideologies in the Andes. Like several messianic groups before it in Peru, the Israelite movement is built around a living messiah, this time an elderly former shoemaker, who, in one person, is considered Moses, the Son of God, the Holy Spirit and possibly Atahualpa, the returned emperor of the Incas.
Damien Thompson and Victor Balaban note that the Israelites have taken over from the Shining Path as the “voice of Peru’s disoriented peasantry. But unlike the Maoist terrorists, the Israelites do not practice violence to achieve their aims.” The proclaimed messiah, Ezequiel Ataucusi Gamonal, has been preaching the end of the world in 2000 and that God’s covenant with the ancient Israelites will be transferred to Peru, the new Holy Land. The group has planted five frontier colonies that intend to model the Inca-based kingdom that will cover the whole of Peru after the apocalypse, according to Thompson and Balaban.
Millennial and apocalyptic fervor is growing in Latin America as a whole, reports the National Catholic Register (Aug. 29 — Sept. 4). Rumors of end-time revelations, such as concerning the Marian apparition at Fatima, are gaining currency among Catholics in many Latin American countries, writes Alejandro Bermudez. “Marian shrines and other spiritual centers have been the most evident barometers of this phenomenon. The Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City, the Shrine of Saint Rose in Lima, Peru, and the Marian Shrine of Our Lady in [Bolivia] are some of the places that have recently seen a significant number of pilgrims preparing for the end of the world.”
Most of the pilgrims explain that they heard water from springs close to Marian shrines would be an effective way to ward off attacks by the devil during the “days of darkness” preceding the end of the world. Since most of the rumors, which have been condemned by church leaders, have spread through the Internet, Bermudez writes that the phenomenon embraces the most literate social sectors of Latin America. Latin American “fundamentalists” are also spreading their own end-time warnings; they say that in the year 2000, an alliance will form between Arab millionaires and the Vatican and that no one will be able to purchase goods unless they have the numbers 666 stamped on them.
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