Their personal Jesus
KITCHENER, Ont. — The power of this Jesus is in question.
The laptop, which is helping to carry the word of a man who claims to be both the anti-Christ and the Son of God, is in need of an almighty, external cord. Its batteries, for the moment, are running low.
But the abundant energy in the room is enough to, at least, make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.
In a chilly hotel meeting room in southwestern Ontario — thick drapes drawn tight to afford a better image beamed onto a large screen — a Sunday morning gathering of the Creciendo en Gracia (Growing in Grace) ministry has attracted about two dozen loyal followers. They have joined similar congregations which are also meeting in other small pockets from Montreal to B.C.
Both Jesus and Devil
And in brotherhood and bandwidth, they are also joined by an undetermined number of international locations — all religiously following the path of their controversial leader.
Jose Luis De Jesus Miranda, a 62-year-old former Puerto Rican heroin addict and felon now based in the southern U.S., claims to be the reincarnation of Jesus as well as the much maligned anti-Christ.
In cities like Miami and New York, members, including apparently some children, are following De Jesus’ lead and being tattooed with “666” and “SSS.”
There is some mild debate what the letters mean. Some members say it’s De Jesus’ motto “salvo siempre salvo” — saved always saved — while others believe it’s just another way of writing what the Book of Revelations considers the “number of the Beast.”
What is certain is the absolute devotion of his flock.
As early as the next week, here in Kitchener — as his church pushes a new drive into Canada — devout members will happily go under the needle themselves.
“My 13-year-old daughter wants the tattoo,” beams Juan Penuela, who has come to the service with his family. He says his two-year-old son is likely too young to get one.
“But later,” promises the 38-year-old St. Catharines cleaner, standing in the back of the meeting, “SSS” sewn across his ball cap.
Penuela says the symbols do not represent a wickedness, because his idol is God.
“I think (De Jesus) believes this stuff,” says Daniel Alvarez, an instructor in the department of religious studies at Florida International University.
Alvarez has tracked the rise of the Growing in Grace church, and has debated members.
“Of course I lost,” Alvarez explains of the match. “These people have crossed a psychological threshold. You can’t argue with them.”
Alvarez worries De Jesus is escalating his shocking claims, and may search out a destructive next act.
De Jesus’ Canadian loyalists only laugh at the fears.
Their national bishop is a polite, 54-year-old chartered accountant, Alex Poessy who, on this day, is bathed in religious bliss and strong cologne.
Sermon beamed in
He and his wife are in the front row during this sermon, beamed in from Miami and Latin America. Like the others here, the Kitchener couple loudly voice their agreement to the word of their God as if the remote leader was actually in the room.
Poessy first heard De Jesus on the radio in 1988, while on a stretch of highway in Miami.
“I fell in love,” he explains during a lull in the Spanish sermon, which curiously includes one of the latest Latin television news exposes on the movement.
No one in the room seems even remotely alarmed when their personal Jesus is compared to cult leaders like David Koresh, of Waco’s doomed Branch Davidians, and Jim Jones, who served up poison Kool-Aid to The People’s Temple. Like De Jesus, Koresh also claimed to be the second coming of Jesus, as did Jones, who asked his followers to call him
De Jesus’ Miami headquarters boasts that thousands of Canadians tune in to hear the man they call “Apostle,” “Dad” and “Jesus Christ Man.” But the number of true believers, mostly Hispanic men and women, is likely less than 200.
On this day, a toddler is encouraged to go up and kiss the image of De Jesus on screen. In one of the rows, a teenager has nonchalantly penned “SSS” onto his hand.
De Jesus runs what he calls God’s Government on Earth. His brand is an unusual copy of the U.S. presidential seal, and he is often circled by a security brigade which mimics the Secret Service.
Soon the world will fall in line behind him, say the faithful, including Axel Poessy, the Canadian bishop’s daughter who heads up De Jesus’ well-oiled publicity machine out of Florida.
On her ankle, you can find 666. In her heart, you can find — she assures — total faith in her leader.
Knows all things
“He knows this conversation is taking place — he knows all things,” she remarks as she delivers the news that De Jesus has pulled out of a scheduled interview with Sun Media.
His decision comes after I’ve began to ask specific questions about the tattooing of children.
Church members believe only De Jesus’ words apply, but when Sun Media questioned why then they would find someone else to speak on his behalf, Poessy explained without worry: “We don’t function with common sense.”
The legend and lore of De Jesus began six decades ago during a Catholic upbringing in Ponce, Puerto Rico. His teen years, he says, were a misery of drug use and theft.
In 1973, he recalls: “Two angels appeared … and they said to me, ‘The King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, He is coming tonight to anoint you for the ministry.”
He was expecting a gift of healing — what he got was a voice in his head. It told him to forget about sin.
“The Devil is destroyed, hell doesn’t exist, no condemnation for the chosen ones,” says De Jesus in a speech.
By the time he was 40 years old, De Jesus got a job in Miami, to do a brief, daily radio message. He turned his commentary into a weekend service, held in a rented warehouse.
In 1999, he began calling himself “the Other,” then the “Apostle.” And in 2004 — after the breakup of his marriage — the father of four decided he was really Jesus Christ himself.
In January, he appeared before his congregation, took off his jacket to show the number “666” on his arms, and decided: “This is a congregation of anti-Christs.”
It’s been a lucrative transformation. He relishes the expensive Rolex watches, rich suits and fine luxury cars his members have gifted him.
A year ago, his central headquarters reportedly brought in $1.4 million and has added many more churches since then. There are some members who offer up as much as 40% of their salary to him.
On this Sunday, children and adults eagerly line up to hand over offerings — called “investments.” A lot of the money will be invested south, into De Jesus’ hands.
Among the contributors is the only Caucasian member in the room, 22-year-old Kitchener welder Chris Wright. His fiance is 22-year-old Angie Poessy, another of the Canadian bishop’s daughters.
Chris understands only rudimentary Spanish, but patiently sits through the hour and half of lecture.
Across his back is tattooed, in large letters, the Spanish phrase for “saved always saved.”
But when quizzed about whether he sees De Jesus as a god, he seems to do some internal wrestling, before — prompted by Angie — acknowledges: “Of course he is.”