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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, July 31) - Four [religious sects] have emerged in Papua New Guinea’s Northern Province, attracting about 23,000 followers throughout the province.

The groups are believed to be breakaways from the three mainstream churches - the Anglican, Catholic and Lutheran - although some Pentecostal churches in the province have also been affected.

Several followers of cult groups interviewed separately last week confirmed they all worshipped and believed in the return of their ancestors although they regarded themselves as belonging to the mainline churches.

However, the Anglican Church Archbishop James Ayong and Bishop Joseph Kofafa from the Anglican Diocese of Popondotta said these followers had no ties with the Anglican Church.

This reporter flew into the province and returned after interviewing several members of four different sectarian groups. Several followers of two of the four cult groups, "the Living Stone Ministry, Church of Nativity" popularly known as the Puo Gave Ministry, said they believed their dead relatives would return with huge amounts of wealth.

The followers of the other two sectarian movements refused to disclose the names of their movement to this reporter.

Archbishop Ayong and Bishop Kofafa yesterday claimed that a former Anglican Church priest was the founder of one of these cult movements.

A house constructed and built on 252 posts using bush material in his village by his followers contains 500 rooms used by people who want to speak to their dead relatives. The followers said they were grouped into clans and take care of the rooms and meet all expenses that are made available for use by their dead relatives during the ceremony.

The "Living Stone Ministry" which started in Hohorita village and became active around the Sasembata area, adopted their name based on Chapter 3 of the first letter of St John’s to the Epistles, where Christ was referred to as a Living Stone.

Archbishop Ayong said their teachings and practices were not recognized by the church or the Anglican doctrines and as such the group must be referred to as a cult and not a Christian or religious group. The archbishop confirmed the ringleaders of these cults were mostly former members of the Anglican clergy. The "Puo Gave" ministry was established by a former Mother Superior of the Community of the Invitation Sisters of the Anglican Church, after consultation with the former archbishop of the church, Sir George Ambo.

The followers said they give large amounts of money as offerings and erected black crosses during important church occasions as a way to portray Jesus Christ as a Papua New Guinean.

Bishop Kofafa said the Anglican Church was structured in a way where all things were done together under the authority of the bishop of the diocese. He said these groups had moved away from the main Anglican Communion and "we have stopped working with them."

"This is not something that the Anglican Church is worried about but what concerns us is the people who have become confused with the cult teachings," Bishop Kofafa said.

Archbishop Ayong said the four sectarian movements in the province were similar to those that emerged in Sepik, Madang, Buka and in the Morobe provinces and said he felt sorry for his people in Northern Province. The followers also confirmed their sect-endorsed candidates for the 2007 national elections.

Attempts to contact leaders of the other denominations have been unsuccessful.

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