Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary

A controversial religious movement founded in Réunion, known for its leader’s criminal activities and unconventional beliefs.

The Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary is a new religious movement with Catholic background, established in 2001 by Juliano Verbard in Piton Saint-Leu, Réunion. This group, often referred to as a cult, garnered significant media attention due to numerous judicial cases involving its founder.

History and Beliefs

Juliano Verbard, born in 1982 and self-titled “Little Lily of Love” (“Petit Lys d’Amour”), claimed that the Virgin Mary spoke to him every 8th day of the month at 22:00 in a coconut tree. Followers were required to pay 20 euros to attend collective prayers. Verbard’s claims and leadership style significantly influenced the group’s beliefs and practices, distinguishing it from mainstream Catholicism.

The group’s origins were inspired by other religious movements, including the Australian religious group Order of Saint Charbel, founded by William Kamm, known as “Little Pebble,” and a French community named Amour et Miséricorde, where Verbard spent time in 2003.

Controversies and Legal Issues

Juliano Verbard’s leadership was marked by several severe controversies and criminal activities. On July 9, 2007, he kidnapped Alexander, a 12-year-old child, whom he perceived as his successor, in Sainte-Suzanne, Réunion. The child was released on August 5, 2007. In February 2008, Verbard faced accusations of child abuse and fraud. He was sentenced to a fifteen-year imprisonment for raping two children, aged 8 and 13. In a dramatic turn of events, Verbard escaped from prison in April 2009 by helicopter, assisted by two of his followers. He was recaptured in May 2009 and received an additional 13-year sentence for the prison escape.

These criminal activities brought the group under intense scrutiny, both from the public and law enforcement agencies. The cult’s practices and the leadership of Verbard were widely criticized and condemned, particularly by French anti-cult associations like CCMM and ADFI.

Relationship with the Catholic Church

The Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary movement was not recognized by the Catholic hierarchy. Its practices and beliefs, particularly those propagated by Verbard, significantly deviated from mainstream Catholic teachings. The movement represents a localized drift from traditional Catholic faith, shaped by Verbard’s unique interpretations and actions.