McALLEN — Miguel Valezquez pulled the gauze off his arm to reveal the fresh ink of a black 666 tattoo and smiled.
The leader of McAllen’s Growing in Grace congregation joined seven of his followers Saturday afternoon at the Lucky 13 Tattoo Parlor. Each one left with 666 or some variation etched on an arm or leg.
Growing in Grace considers itself a Christian denomination, though it follows the teachings of a man who calls himself the Antichrist. They admit most people do not understand or accept their beliefs, which have also stirred international controversy.
Today at 10 a.m., Velazquez said a group of about 25 will meet to discuss their beliefs and pay tribute to God, Jesus Christ and a man from Puerto Rico they believe to be the second coming of Jesus Christ.
Puerto Rican-born Jose’ Lui’s de Jesus Miranda calls himself the Man Christ Jesus, and he leads the international Growing in Grace organization, based in Miami. He cites Biblical passages and claims to be the second coming of Jesus, according to information distributed by his followers.
And the group believes the new Jesus has come and replaced Jesus of Nazareth, which makes him the Antichrist. While mainstream Christian beliefs view the Antichrist as evil, Miranda’s followers say that’s a misinterpretation.
In March, a leader within the Roman Catholic Church warned people to beware the Antichrist, according to the Catholic News Service.
Traditional Christian views often consider 666 the mark of the beast or Satan.
Growing in Grace followers also cite Bible entries that mention 666, none of which call it evil. They say King Solomon, a figure from the Old Testament, collected taxes in the amount of 666. For this reason, the eight people at Saturday’s tattooing wore T-shirts that read “666 prosperity.”
As tattoo artist Lee Lopez burned 666 into Velazquez’s arm, he learned about the man’s religious beliefs.
“We don’t believe in sin,” Velazquez told him. “The Bible says Jesus destroyed sin in one day. That doesn’t mean I have to go and do every crazy thing.”
Velazquez continued to tell Lopez that Growing in Grace believes people receive earthly punishments for sins. For example, a murderer suffers punishment at the hands of the government. Lopez listened, but was more concerned with the numbers he was etching into the man’s arm.
Velazquez said the McAllen congregation is small, but the church has many followers internationally. Miranda, the group’s founder and leader, has claimed 2 million followers worldwide, saying his largest support comes from Miami and Colombia.
Still, controversy remains. In April, Guatemala refused him entrance to the country, and according to the Dallas Morning News, El Salvador and Honduras have done the same.