Former members of what they described as an “extremist” religious group in Malta recently opened up about some of the traumatic experiences they dealt with while part of the Jesus the Saviour Community.
However, that barely scratched the surface.
The 19-year-old daughter of one of the group’s leaders spoke to Lovin Malta about what it was like being raised in a “cult” which the Archdiocese of Malta has disassociated itself from.
Unsure if she still believes in God after her experience, Amy Attard speaks out in her own words as told to Lovin Malta.
When I was younger, it was quite fun being part of the Komunita’ Ġesu Salvatur. People were my age and we used to meet up and pray regularly; it was fun and it wasn’t strict.
As I got older and things progressed, it started getting more strict. Smaller groups within the community began forming.
The main group is the whole community; but within it, there’s a closed group called The Intercessors.
The Intercessors meet every Friday and every second Tuesday, organising closed events with determination, and it wasn’t long before things started getting really strict.
If you didn’t go to the Friday meetings, you’d get kicked out. What that means is everyone has to isolate you then. They have to block you, unfriend you – and make no contact with you.
That’s when they started the Rhema celebration, a new event.
Anyone could come, and one leader, a woman, she would tell certain people to come, children or women, and she would pray on them and they would fall over from her prayers.
The day of the celebration, we would need to fast, only bread and water, so you’d be light-headed by the end of the day. During the celebration, this heavy type of music played in the background, it made you anxious… the atmosphere was an anxious one.
You’d feel like you were going to faint… But they’d say it was the Holy Spirit you were feeling.
The most closed-off group was called the Agape – my family, the woman leader’s family, and three priests. The priests would say that we had been chosen by Our Lady, because the woman says she sees Our Lady, she said that Our Lady speaks to her in Italian… I never saw her though.
We would take pilgrimages every year to Bosnia and Herzegovina, sometimes more than once in a year, it was like a second home to me.
We obviously weren’t allowed to vote.
We were instructed to either not vote, or write ‘No God No Vote’… we couldn’t vote because they told us that all the politicians supported the LGBT community and wanted abortions.
Once, a line of candles was formed, and the woman leader said – whoever conforms with the group must pass through the candles step over it, and they can no longer vote.
We all passed through the candles.
And when it came to science: evolution doesn’t exist, there is no other life in space, Adam and Eve started the planet, and they don’t believe in the Big Bang theory.
When I was younger I really believed what they said, but then my new friends started telling me about science and technology and space and I started thinking… ilalla, how big is the universe then? Could there be more realities?
And how can we say there’s no more life? Nowadays, I think space is really cool… I am a fan of Elon Musk and Bob Lazar, and I love Marvel comics now.
I’ve never watched a Harry Potter film in my life, and I’ve never seen Pokemon either… I know what a Pokemon is though. We also couldn’t watch scary movies because then the demons would come out.
When it comes to music, certain songs were especially bad.
When Hozier’s ‘Take Me To Church’ came out, we had a talk and were told not to listen to it because it’s about gays. Even ‘I’m Only Human’ – she told us it’s not true, we are saints.
When it came to meeting non-members we were always told the same thing: tpoġġix perli f’ħalq il-ħnieżer (Don’t place pearls in the mouth of pigs).
When I met some new people, my dad never liked them. They felt the pressure to join the group, but they didn’t really believe so they said no.
We were told that if we hung out with these people we would lose our way – the woman leader told us that we were the only good community in the world, apart from some group in Africa. Only we would go to heaven.
At the same time, we were urged to bring new people to the community.
I was pressured to get my friends, and I put so much pressure on them that I left my friends traumatised. One friend needed to take pills because of the pressure… her parents ended up going to the school and told me to stay away from her…. I felt so bad about it, I had to apologise to her just this week.
Now at this point, my mom was already becoming unhappy with the community as well.
The female leader was spending a lot of time with my dad, planning events and meetings, and he never had time for my mom anymore.
Even though my dad was the face, she was the main one, but she hides in the shadow and she makes my dad look bad because he’s always the one left messaging everyone… but she’s evil.
My dad had led the ‘Kristu Iva Divorzju Le’ campaign when there was the divorce referendum. But now, he and my mom have separated.
My mom had an illness, and the group told her not to seek medical treatment because God would heal her.
For two years she didn’t get an essential operation. When she finally decided to get the operation, my dad told her they’d be separating.
She was so bad, she spent four hours in the operation theatre, and they didn’t get everything as well because of these people, because they had told her: God will save you.
She says I made her get the operation and saved her… I just hope I can save more because there are other people not taking medication in the group.
But it wasn’t just within the group – we weren’t even allowed to fund or support groups like Puttinu Cares because if we funded them, we would be funding the devil because they are helping the cancer demon.
I began finding myself having lots of moments when I thought: this isn’t right.
When I turned 16 I started going out, going to Junior College and hanging out with people… and you’d hear different things.
I’d hear my friends who care about me talk to me in one way… and then I’d meet the community and hear hatred.
I had a rebellious stage, and everyone hated me for that in the community. I was isolated and it was quite hard and I thought: what am I doing here? But I was too scared to leave.
They told me I’d be condemned; everyone would leave me, and the people outside are not real people.
The fear was real: it was so scary, I’d be alone forever, I’d lose everyone. They said that if you leave you’d get depressed; if we got sick it’s because we’d have left because we denied God.
I work as a make-up artist: after this incident, a community member called me asking to book a make-up session. I said ok, no point in losing a client because of the community.
But then the next day she called me abruptly and said “isma leave it, I’ll do it myself”… and then I saw that everyone had blocked me or unfriended me.
I was so angry that I ended up writing a post on Facebook… and next thing I know, I received a flood of messages from people who were in similar situations to mine, and how it had ruined their life.
I wanted to speak out because I saw so many people hurting, so many families that got ruined, like Melita’s, and who had their families shattered into pieces… and I was just so angry with it all.
People were telling me: “mela its not just me?” and I’d say “no its not just you…” and it keeps going and going. A lesbian contacted me who lost her mom to cancer… when her mother had died, they said its because she accepted her child as gay.
Now that I’ve left the community, I’ve never felt better, it’s the best thing you can do to yourself – and I will continue to speak out against the abuses within this cult.
I just want people to know: don’t be scared. People who really love you will stay with you and not because a community leader told them to. If they loved you, they’d talk to you – but these people don’t.
Leave, and you will finally be free.
After speaking to Amy, Lovin Malta sent a set of questions to the Jesus the Saviour community and their answers are being reproduced here in full.
1. How many members form part of your community?
“Community Jesus The Saviour is an open community proclaiming the Word of God based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Its members are all adults who are free to choose to attend or dissent.”
“The Community always worked and preached in the field of the Lord openly in parishes and Churches in Malta. During COVID-19 restrictions, the community went online and meets ‘virtually’ through our Facebook page.”
“All prayer sessions and teachings are available online for anyone to watch. We encourage anyone who would like to get to know the Community, to log onto our Facebook page.”
2. Is it true that your members are encouraged not to vote at elections because you think politicians are in favour of the LGBT community and are in favour of abortion?
“Every organisation in Malta and abroad encourages its members to vote for politicians that agree with its ethos and similarly to not vote for those that oppose its beliefs.”
“This is part of society’s democratic process. Our teachings are based on the Word of God and the catechism of the Catholic Church.”
3. Is it true you teach your members that evolution isn’t real and that Adam and Eve started the human race?
“No, we have never entered into this subject at any community meetings.”
4. Is it true you discourage your members from developing relationships with non-members?
“No, all persons that attend community meetings are normal persons that have a normal life in their families and working environments.”
5. Is it true you discourage your members from seeking medical treatment on the grounds that God will heal them?
“In line with Catholic teaching, as a community, we pray and encourage our members to pray for healing. We quote Scripture asking Omnipotent God for His healing.”
“We also organise Rhema Celebrations during which people have experienced healing of the mind, body and soul. We have never discouraged members from seeking medical help. We ask members of the Community from the medical field to pray for their patients.”
6. Is it true you discourage your members from donating to charity groups like Puttinu Cares?
No, donating to charities is not against Church teachings and the Community ethos.