Surrounded by a handful of bodyguards, Jose Luis de Jesus Miranda straightened his tailored beige suit and stepped onto the stage. The crowd at the drab Doral headquarters of his Creciendo en Gracia ("Growing in Grace") ministry this past Wednesday was on its feet, applauding wildly.
"Father, I love you," a woman screamed in Spanish from the rear of the room. She pulled out her checkbook so de Jesus wouldn't "have to sell pastries at the door."
In February 2006 New Times was among the first to publish de Jesus's declaration that he was the second coming of Christ. Since then, the 60-year-old Puerto Rican's religious sect has amassed more than 100,000 members worldwide. In recent weeks he announced himself as the Antichrist, revealed a 666 tattoo on his forearm, and embarked on a campaign to ensure his servants followed his lead.
"Your beloved [de Jesus] is simply saying, öLove me, by putting my mark on yourself,'" Creciendo en Gracia's U.S. bishop Rafael Encarnación told the audience, which had gathered for a service entitled "The Mark of The Beast." "These are Dad's instructions," he said.
Seated a few rows from the front, seventeen-year-old Arianna Ruiz nodded her head robotically in agreement. "In three months I'll be eighteen," she says, beaming, "and then I'm gonna get the tattoo. I believe in him, not just because of what he says, but what he reveals."
Among the revelations that evening: The Bible was not inspired by God; only ignorant people would compare de Jesus to a cult leader; and sowing (donating money) is both a privilege and an order.
"I'm trying to find peace and I came because it sounded good," confessed the 45-year-old Coral Gables resident. "But I'm supposed to tattoo myself with the Devil's symbol and why? I don't think so. Doesn't the Bible warn you about a false God?" Joanne Green
State Senator Frederica Wilson has her undies in a bunch over the term "illegal alien," and has sponsored a bill to eliminate the term from state documents. To paraphrase my favorite alien, Yoda: "Mmm, very rude, this term to Frederica is."