by Jim Avila and Caroline Borge
A few weeks ago, in a tattoo parlor in the hip art deco district of Miami Beach, people were lining up to get "666" tattooed on their bodies, and then smiling through their pain. But these are not devil worshipers. They see themselves as devout followers of Jesus Christ. But the major difference that separates them from other Christians around the world is that the Jesus Christ they worship is alive and well -- and living in the suburbs of Houston.
These people belong to a new movement devoted to a man who calls himself the Second Coming of Jesus, and also claims the title of Antichrist, which to him is the next incarnation of Jesus on earth, not an evil being. To show their devotion, some followers ink themselves with "666." One follower said, "I just want to make sure it's visible, that everyone knows my life belongs to the man." Another said, "I want everyone to know I'm one of the antichrists."
They and others like them are fervently devoted, some say fanatically, to a 60-year-old Puerto Rican whose legal name, to his pleasure, is Jose de Jesus, or "Jose of Jesus." He counts followers in more than 30 countries; some say they total more than a million. But where does this man, who claims to be God, live? Not where you might expect: He resides with his wife in a suburban community just outside Houston.
The Birth of 'Jesus'
When asked to explain who he is, de Jesus responds: "Jesus Christ, man, the second manifestation, the Second Coming of Christ." He acknowledges that "it bothers a lot of people" that he calls himself Jesus.
De Jesus' beginning was anything but grand. Born in Puerto Rico, de Jesus grew up poor, living in government housing. He stole for a living to pay for his teenage heroin addiction and admits to eight felony charges that put him behind bars for nine months.
Like many, de Jesus says he was born again in prison. From there he moved to the United States, where he became involved in church youth groups, and eventually a minister in Boston. But it was a vision, de Jesus says, that turned him from man of God to being God.
"The same spirit that was in Jesus of Nazareth, and the same spirit is in me. He came to me. He [integrated] with my person in 1973." de Jesus says this happened when two angels came to him in a vision, and while he admits there's no real way for him to prove that he's Christ, he says his followers aren't asking for proof.
"So you tell the millions of followers I have that ... this guy is a liar. You know what are they going to say? Is that I prefer his lies than what religion gave me. I prefer, see because when they believe in what I teach, they activate angels in their life."
'Jesus Drank Wine Because He Didn't Have Dewar's'
His followers do seem happy. They greet him with mariachi bands at airports and often collapse in tears when they see him preach. But when he speaks to them, it is without theatrics. No holy rolling, no healing -- it's a pretty straightforward lesson in the fundamentals of what he believes. And it's an upbeat, no-fault, sin-free message. This self-proclaimed Jesus does not believe in sin, hell, the devil or damnation of any kind.
"Before the presence of God, there's no more sin," he says. And with no sin, de Jesus teaches his followers, there's no devil and no need for prayer, because after Jesus of Nazareth died and was resurrected, one can literally do no wrong in God's eyes.
De Jesus says things like murder and theft are crimes, but not sins, and that people are punished for these crimes on earth. "Heaven doesn't have anything to do with your behavior," he says.
And de Jesus practices what he preaches: He loves women and has been married twice. He smokes cigarettes and while enjoying a glass of scotch, he says, "Jesus drank wine because he didn't have Dewar's."
De Jesus doesn't mind that his ministry often gathers in the corner tavern. "Like my former, Jesus of Nazareth, he used to go to places like this and the religious people, they used to criticize him. ... I'm just doing the same kind of thing."
But he does draw the line: no drugs, and he says no getting drunk.
"Jesus never got drunk and I never get drunk. I enjoy life. I enjoy everything that I do."
'The Super Raza'
De Jesus has come a long way from Puerto Rico, and those rough times. Today his believers give money freely. And where does all the money go? Joane de Jesus, the daughter of the man called Jesus, is the official accountant for the ministry. She says, "What you see as luxuries are gifts that members have given him. They're just very grateful, and they want to give him gifts."
There are no rules in de Jesus' church. Anything goes when you follow "Jesus of Suburbia." But he is serious about being the Second Coming of Christ. And along with his followers, he also has many detractors. Some who think he's the devil incarnate and others who think he's just a charlatan and a con man. One of the things that makes him so hated, so controversial, is that he preaches the Catholic Church is evil, and his followers burn pictures of the pope and hold protests outside churches.
And what about the children who grow up in his movement believing that Jesus is alive and well? He calls them the "super raza" or the super race, because they are being brought up pure and with no stain of false religion on them.
The de Jesus ministry is growing, with big followings in Venezuela, Columbia, even Cuba, and the man who believes he is the Second Coming of Christ is now turning his attention to America.
"Miami is the bridge for all nations," he said. "That's where Hispanics are, and then eventually I'm going to find a lot of beautiful English-speaking people who will want to believe in me and I'm going to have millions of them."
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