El Shaddai - Australia Network Newsline report

Uploaded by australianetworknews on 24.11.2010

KESHA WEST, REPORTER: It's Saturday night in the Philippine capital Manila. But instead
of heading to the city's clubs and bars the Filipino crowds come here to the sprawling
grounds of El Shaddai where a celebration of the holy kind is in full swing.
It's 9pm but many of these families have been here since three in the afternoon, hoping
to secure one of the coveted seats close to the stage.
Soon it's time for the real star of the show to emerge. Mariano Velarde, better known as
Brother Mike, is greeted by a sea of candles and tens of thousands of voices singing the
movement's theme song.
The 71 year old Filipino complete with his trademark colourful suits and bow tie is the
country's most well-known televangelist. But to the crowds here he is much more.
VOX POP 1: Like Jesus. Brother Mike is very, very like Holy Spirit.
VOX POP 2: Well he's a holy man. He's really God's given to us. Everybody loves him.
KESHA WEST: Brother Mike founded El Shaddai 26 years ago. It now has some eight to 10
million followers across the world with overseas chapters in 40 countries from Asia to the
Middle East to Europe, Australia and the US.
The hugely popular preacher seems genuinely surprised by just how big the movement has
MARIANO 'BROTHER MIKE' VELARDE, EL SHADDAI FOUNDER: I have never expected that it will
go this far.
I was just trying just to tell the stories about how God has done miracles in my life.
Then it got attention with the public.
KESHA WEST: The real estate agent and genetic engineer tells me he turned to the Bible after
a miracle cured him of serious heart problems.
Soon he was preaching on the airwaves via his own radio show and then came El Shaddai.
PROFESSOR GRACE JAMON, UNIVERSITY OF THE PHILIPPINES: He has charisma. For me he's the embodiment
of our like an Estrada, our president Estrada. If Estrada is to our politics, Brother Mike
is to religion.
KESHA WEST: Grace Jamon is a professor of political science at the University of the
Philippines, an executive director of Manila's Social Science Council. She wrote her thesis
on El Shaddai.
GRACE JAMON: There is a lot of Protestant influence, for example the laying of hands
which we see among charismatic protestants and of course plus other antics that are really
pretty indigenous.
And I think that is also the reason why he is very attractive to those who became his
followers, because he is very Filipino at the same time.
KESHA WEST: It was in the 80s that the modern-day gospel-driven renewal movements like El Shaddai
really took hold in the country as Filipinos embraced a new religious fervour, far removed
from what many then considered the rigid Catholic institution.
Pentecostal and charismatic churches, both Catholic and Protestant, flourished and El
Shaddai emerged as one of the biggest of the Christian charismatic movements.
MARIANO VELARDE: I was invited by the Bishop Bacani in 1995 to present myself for the Catholic
Bishops' Conference of the Philippines in plenary session. And I was there. And they
asked so many questions about the movement. And I said, "I just don't know. People keep
on coming back."
KESHA WEST: There's over 100,000 people here tonight. Every Saturday rain or shine they
flock here to hear Brother Mike's weekly prayer rally.
This is El Shaddai's fourth home, having outgrown their previous three venues.
The extraordinary growth of the church has led many, including those within the Roman
Catholic Church itself, to question whether El Shaddai poses a long-term threat to the
MARIANO VELARDE: This is just part of the Catholic charismatic renewal movement and
there is nothing more. And I have no intentions of getting out of the Church and bringing
these people out of the Catholic fold.
In fact there were instances where I offered this movement to be turned over to the Church
with my financial support.
KESHA WEST: Some of that initial suspicion and apprehension about El Shaddai may have
subsided. But the Church has continued to keep the movement on a tight leash according
to professor Grace Jamon, something that has also brought its own benefits for the Catholic
GRACE JAMON: It made sure that they had a bishop who would oversee the goings-on in
the Church.
But also for strategic reasons they know it was good, or it is good to have El Shaddai
nurtured by them as well because it is also a source of funds for them.
Like when the Pope came here I think a certain percentage of the expenses were assigned to
Brother Mike.
KESHA WEST: His followers are strongly encouraged to contribute 10 per cent of their incomes
to the church, a practice that's received its fair share of criticism given the majority
of its membership are poor.
MARIANO VELARDE: Now I do not ask people to contribute. I just open the Bible, preach
the Gospel and come across these offerings which is a requirement in commandment of God.
I just tell them this is what the Bible says.
KESHA WEST: Brother Mike says his church has helped invigorate the Catholic faith and crucially
stopped the exodus to the Protestant movement.
MARIANO VELARDE: I see change in people and more Catholics who have been out of church
before are now back.
KESHA WEST: His influence too in Philippines society is undeniable. Politicians from local
officials to presidents come to seek his advice and support.
At one stage he was also the spiritual adviser to president Joseph Estrada.
GRACE JAMON: Presidents, senators come to him because they know that if mobilisations
are needed he can always mobilise them, either for or against them.
KESHA WEST: The charismatic preacher has also flirted with the idea of becoming a politician
himself. Like born again pastor Brother Eddie Villanueva, Brother Mike considered running
for president this year until his followers asked him not to.
So if it's not politics what lies ahead for Brother Mike? His seemingly endless stamina
on stage suggests he'll be preaching to his adoring flock for some time to come.
MARIANO VELARDE: I have four children, three boys and a girl. And I have 10 grandchildren,
eight boys and two girls.
Of course it's my prayer that one of them will take over but who knows? Only God knows.
So I do believe for the last 26 years that this is God's work, not mine. So he must have
somebody in mind already after my turn.
JIM MIDDLETON: Kesha West reporting from Manila.