YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – A bishop in the Ivory Coast has re-instated a lay group after its leader repudiated a claim by a member that she was God.
Maman Pauline – known for wearing long, white gowns and a crown – has led the Catholic prayer group Maria Rosa Mystica since 2002. She is also a member of the diocesan coordination team for new Christian communities in the Diocese of Yopougon.
Maria Rosa Mystica has been controversial. They conduct special “body cleansing” baths in a pool and perform “deliverance” rituals.
The prayer group is linked to the Maria Rosa Mystica Foundation, which is involved in humanitarian works.
On April 18, Bishop Salomon Lezoutié suspended the group seven days after one of its members – going by the name Adjoua – went on RTI, a national television station, and declared, “Maman Pauline was God and has saved the Ivory Coast through her light.”
Adjoua also claimed to be a former witch, who had killed many people. She said Maman Pauline had saved her soul.
The case is similar to one in Benin, also in West Africa, where a woman known as “Parfaite” claimed to be God and created her own church.
Yannick Kouamé, a local Catholic leader, challenged the Yopougnon “to speak out clearly and firmly so that the Church shouldn’t end up being ridiculed again.”
Soon after the broadcast, Father Marius Hervé Djadji, a dogmatic theologian, echoed these concerns.
“If this Maman Pauline is a Catholic Christian, she should humbly denounce this heresy. If she remains silent, then she supports it,” the priest said, warning that Catholics in the diocese should also avoid her twice-weekly prayer sessions.
“By your presence, you are putting to doubt the profession of your faith in the Trinity. Beware of these people who use their positions as ‘Catholic Christians’ to pollute your faith,” the priest said.
After suspending the group, Lezoutié began a diocesan investigation of the group, which lasted several months.
The bishop insisted Maman Pauline denounce the claim made by her follower on the same television station where the woman said she was God. The leader of Maria Rosa Mystica complied with the request on Aug. 4.
“Me, my job, is helping my neighbor,” she said on television.
“It is Mary who put me there, it is she who does everything. The Virgin Mary is my mother and the mother of everyone. And the world must know it,” Maman Pauline said.
“I always put Jesus and his mother Mary before me. Mary and her baby Jesus first, and me behind,” she said, also insisting she will “never defect from the Catholic Church.”
At a press conference, the diocesan communications officer, Father Patrick Ossein, announced the conclusions of the investigation.
“We listened to Maman Pauline, officials of the community as well as those of the television program, and we came to the conclusion that [Maman Pauline] did not send [Adjoua],” the priest said Aug. 8. “I even spoke to the young lady who made the claim and she told me she does not know what came over him.”
A diocesan team has also been set up to monitor the activities of the group and its leader for any traces of wrong-doing or blasphemy, and they have been ordered to confine their prayer meetings and other activities to a single parish church. The bishop has also requested that Maman Pauline cease the use of bodyguards, which he said was “ostentatious.”
The leader’s supporters have been overjoyed.
“She is a poor woman, a simple mortal,” said Lucien Kouassi Kouadio, the president of the Maria Rosa Mystica Foundation. He denied that Maman Pauline ever claimed to be or believed herself to be God.
He also pointed out her strong Catholic faith and financial contributions she has made to the Church.
Bishop Bruno Kouamé – the 91-year-old emeritus Bishop of Abengourou – has openly supported Maman Pauline, whom he baptized and confirmed.
The bishop frequently attended her open prayer sessions and described the suspension order for Maria Rosa Mystica as “very dangerous.”
“Maman Pauline brings together so many people. The Catholic Church should instead have coaxed Maman Pauline so that her followers come to God’s house,” he said.
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