by Carmie Carpio/Asianjournal.com
AN ocean of faces looks up to him, with waves formed by hands lifted up in praise. Who is this man who can draw millions of people in one place, not just for one night, as concert performers are wont to do, but every Saturday night? In the Philippines, only one man can do that and people call him, Brother Mike.
Born Mariano Zuniega Velarde on August 20, 1939 in Catanduanes, Bro. Mike is known nationwide as the founder and Servant Leader of the El Shaddai Movement, a Catholic Charismatic religious group. Since 1984, Bro. Mike and his movement have seven million Filipinos worldwide. The movement has broadened its network through its international chapters in the US, Canada, Australia, Middle East, Europe and Asia.
Before he became the famous and charismatic “Bro. Mike,” the young Geodetic Engineering graduate from a college in Manila bought land and developed residential subdivisions in the southern outskirts of Manila. He was faring well until in 1983, the Philippines was overshadowed by political and economic turmoil. At this point, the budding entrepreneur went bankrupt. Three years later, his debts reportedly rose to $8 million.
Bro. Mike chose to rise above his piling debts and started veering away from business. Inspired by his recovery from a heart ailment back in 1978, Bro. Mike started his own weekly Bible-quoting radio show on DWXI, a station he acquired as part of a real estate deal. Later, he would lead monthly prayer rallies outside of the radio station. The growth of his followers grew beyond proportions, eventually leading to his financial recovery.
How does he do it? After all these years, what glued and attracted people to him and his teachings?
A herald of hope drew the people to him. Known for his prosperity gospel, Bro. Mike promises healing, financial prosperity, and success to his followers. El Shaddai also ascribes magical healing powers to a wide variety of objects as eggs, bankbooks, and specially blessed handkerchiefs printed with prayers. For El Shaddai followers, with no exception to politicians, miracles are an earthly possibility.
Still, the El Shaddai leader and preacher did not completely turn his back on his old enterprising business. Currently he owns and runs the Amvel Land Development Corporation, the real estate company behind the 3,000-unit Amvel Mansions, a residential project in Parañaque. His children are into real estate as well, with some into politics.