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French Cult Predicts Doomsday by Christmas - 2002-10-20

Mankind has been granted a reprieve, you will be relieved to hear. A tiny French cult had predicted the end of the world would occur on October 24. But now, the sect says, doomsday will fall later, sometime before Christmas

Of the dozens of officially-recognized sects in France, few have attracted more attention in recent weeks than the New Lighthouse Movement, based in the city of Nantes in the west of France.

For months, half a dozen members of the cult have remained inside their headquarters, a two-story house, reading the gospels, discussing religious matters, and predicting that the end of the world is coming soon. Very soon.

The group captured media attention recently when its 36-year-old leader, Arnaud Mussy, set next Thursday as doomsday. But in an interview with VOA, Mr. Mussy said his remarks had been misinterpreted, saying the apocalypse is arriving, sometime in the next month or two, but he could not give a precise date.

Mr. Mussy's predictions have proved wrong before. Two previous doomsday dates, scheduled for last February and last July, rolled by without major catastrophes.

But French police have other concerns. One New Lighthouse Movement member committed suicide on July 14, coinciding with one doomsday date, and two other members tried unsuccessfully to kill themselves.

Police and justice officials say they cannot ban the sect, since New Lighthouse members have not broken any law. But many people in France remember another apocalyptic sect, the Order of the Solar Temple, which staged a series of spectacular, coordinated suicides in France, Switzerland and Canada during the mid-1990s.

Mr. Mussy argues he and his followers are pacifists and have no intention of committing suicide. For now, he says, group members live normal lives; they go shopping, walk on nearby beaches, even pay their taxes.

Mr. Mussy claims to be the reincarnation of Jesus Christ. His brother Olivier, he says, is a pope. According to Mr. Mussy, the end of the world, when it comes, will last three difficult days. But the afterlife will be joyful.

France has plenty of offbeat sects, not all of which are apocalyptic. Philippe Sauvage, a self-styled druid from Brittany, for example, has attracted hundreds of admirers for his reported healing powers. But the French government has charged him with fraud.

As for Mr. Mussy, he says if his latest doomsday prediction is wrong, he may have to return to his old job as a sales agent for the French telecommunications company, France-Telecom.