The Restoration of the Ten Commandments

The Restoration of the Ten Commandments

Beware of cults that throw “going away” parties to heaven.

On March 15, 2000, Credonia Mwerinde and Joseph Kibwetere, leaders of the cult of The Restoration of the Ten Commandments, hosted a great party for certain of their followers in the town of Kanungu, Uganda, roasting three bulls and providing seventy crates of soft drinks for their members’ indulgence. Before they left for the celebration, many of the cultists told family members that they would not be coming back home, for after the party ended, they were going to the holy land. Later that evening, over one thousand members of the cult were either poisoned or otherwise murdered, doused with sulphuric acid, and set on fire.

The cult of The Restoration of the Ten Commandments had its origins in the late 1970s when a group of schoolchildren claimed to have received visions of the Virgin Mary on a soccer field in the town of Kibeho, Rwanda. A cult of the Virgin was formed, combining Roman Catholicism with aboriginal religious traditions, and spread to southwest Uganda. It was here, in 1984, that Credonia Mwerinde, a former store proprietor and brewer of banana beer, said that the Virgin Mary appeared to her for the first time.

In 1989 Credonia met with Joseph Kibwetere, a school administrator and politician who was active in the Catholic Church, and informed him that she had been instructed to seek his aid in spreading the Virgin’s message that people must restore value to the Ten Commandments if they were to escape damnation at the end of the world. According to Mwerinde’s visions, Judgment Day was fast approaching. The world would end on December 31, 1999.

The message of Mary as delivered by Mwerinde and Kibwetere proved to be spellbinding to thousands of men and women in Uganda. The two were filled with the Holy Spirit and seemed to possess supernatural powers. Kibwetere was a charismatic preacher, and Mwerinde quickly established herself as the enforcer and disciplinarian of the cult. The rules for the group were outlined in a pamphlet entitled A Timely Message from Heaven (1991), dictated by the Virgin Mary through Mwerinde, and were extremely strict. The cult members were forbidden to communicate other than through sign language. They must labor in the fields to grow their own food, and they must fast regularly. On Mondays and Fridays they were allowed only one meal. Soap was forbidden as a sinful indulgence.

There were also members of the Roman Catholic clergy who were attracted to Mwerinde’s channeled messages from the Virgin Mary, and who agreed that the church could use reforming. Father Paul Ikazire and Father Dominic Kataribabo joined the cult in protest to what they regarded as the church’s failure to fulfill crucial obligations to its faithful. Soon membership in the cult had reached five thousand.

When January 1, 2000, dawned and the world was still in existence, dissension began to grow in the ranks of the cult. Because they had been commanded to sell their property and belongings and give all proceeds to the cult, many of the dissatisfied members began to grumble that they wanted their money back. Others began to doubt the validity of the direct discourses that Credonia claimed came directly from the Virgin Mary.

Early in March, Mwerinde and Kibwetere announced that there would be a glorious and holy celebration that had been ordered by Mary. After a sacred feast, those specially chosen cultists would be taken directly to heaven.

The bodies of Credonia Mwerinde and Joseph Kibwetere were not found among the charred remains of their faithful members. A witness in Kanungu told police that he had caught sight of the two departing from the festivities with suitcases in hand and wondered at the time why they would leave before their party had ended.

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