'Zombie church' helps Slovenia crucify corrupt leaders

Ljubljana (AFP) - "In the name of the Bell, the Pan and the Holy Pot..." Slovenia's newest religion may have the strangest of scriptures, but in a country plagued by corruption scandals, its anti-graft gospel has gained a huge following.

The Trans-Universal Zombie Church of the Blissful Ringing has become the country's fifth biggest religion in less than a year, according to its founder Rok Gros, with already over 10,000 faithful in a nation of two million.

"We are a group of intellectuals who instead of caring only about ourselves, decided to care for others," high priestess and Ljubljana University English lecturer Mojca Belak told AFP.

Once a model EU and eurozone state, Slovenia has been hit by spectacular church and state corruption, with one jailed former prime minister still securing massive support in recent elections, while other public figures have remained in high positions despite allegations of impropriety.

So appalled was Pope Francis by a 800-million euro ($1-billion) church financial scandal, he fired the country's two leading Catholic clerics.

But it was the jailed former premier Janez Jansa who gave the Church its name when he dismissed those who demanded his resignation as "zombies". Protesters adopted the insult as a badge of honour.

Now the Zombie Church hopes to weed out graft with the help of cowbells and pots and pans which followers ring and beat in front of parliament -- the "sanctuary of corruption" -- at zombie "masses" every Wednesday.

"We are led by a pack of elite lunatics in 'Corruptland'... we have to ring our bells until they are rung away," the zombie "Holy Book" says.

- 'Holy pina colada' -

The Church has been compared to other parody religions like the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster or the Jedi Church, and the thoughts expressed in its Holy Book are quirky to say the least.

Among other things, it says its zombies resurrect daily, the holy drinks are beer and pina coladas, and while the Church worships cows, it recommends eating the super succulent Japanese Kobe beef.

Gros meanwhile holds the title of high priest, founder and keeper of the Pot and the Pan, and ends his sermons with a "Bong" -- the Church's version of the Catholic "Amen".

But for Ales Crnic, a cultural studies professor at Ljubljana University, there is more to the Church than zany ideas.

"It is a criticism of the modern state that has been failing to fulfil its social commitments," he told AFP.

Gros, a 37-year-old entrepreneur and father of two, said he had the idea for this new faith after taking part in mass anti-corruption protests in 2012-2013 that led to the resignations of ex-prime minister Jansa and the mayor of Slovenia's second largest city Maribor.

"All those who have led the country in the last 10 years wouldn't get more than an unsatisfactory grade," he told AFP, insisting his religion was no parody.

He confirmed that the name "zombie" comes from the word that Jansa, who was sentenced to two years for corruption but has since been released pending appeal, used to describe the protestors.

- Mirror to other religions -

The Zombie Church was set up at a time when unemployment had hit a record high and Slovenia looked on the brink of a bailout. Even the local Catholic Church was on the verge of bankruptcy after its major scandal.

For many Slovenians the new religion has become a welcome alternative.

Alongside its kookier precepts, the Zombie Church advises against taking out loans that can't be repaid, advocates free contraception for women and collects food, clothes and money for the needy.

"It sets a mirror that shows the absurdity of (other) religions," said one follower, Martin Trampuz.

Bojana Drpic, from northeastern Slovenia, had a more practical reason for joining. "The holy pot and pan help me every day prepare my daily meal," she said, tongue-in-cheek.

The Church organises most of its activities through its Facebook page and has no actual place of worship.

But the Trans-Universal Zombie Church of the Blissful Ringing could have a future even beyond Slovenia, according to Crnic.

"We could hardly imagine such religions ever becoming mainstream... (But) it is possible that the Church spreads to other countries since it addresses universal dilemmas that the Western world faces," he said.

Gros was similarly optimistic: "We will spread our faith and Church all over the world."