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Title Creciendo en Gracia - Jesus Redux

Creciendo en Gracia - Jesus Redux February 9th, 2006

They're waging a war on organized religion, they bring in millions of dollars, and defectors say they're a cult [...]

The protesters belong to a congregation called Creciendo en Gracia, or Growing in Grace. It is headquartered in a drab Doral warehouse but has outposts throughout Latin America, as well as in Spain, Italy, Canada, and Australia. All told, the group claims 300 congregations with more than 100,000 members, plus a 24-hour cable channel that reaches two million homes. And it's growing. In the last year alone, Creciendo en Gracia has added nearly 100 churches to its roster. The group is organized around José Luis De Jesus Miranda, a 59-year-old Puerto Rican man with impish charm and a taste for indulgence. Some defectors, like Regina Albarracin - a Pembroke Pines woman whose son remains a member - liken him to a cult leader. Devotees call him Jesus Christ and lavish him with gifts and money. More than 400 followers have set up businesses that funnel 20 to 80 percent of their profits into the ministry. Others donate cars, homes, and tens of thousands of dollars in cash and services.

De Jesus's followers believe they are God's true chosen people and call their children the 'super race.' They are also convinced other churches peddle deceit and spread poverty, war, and disease. But while this antipathy dates back years, only recently have they begun acting on it by disrupting religious events. Over the past five months, Creciendo en Gracia parishioners have held at least 40 protests in more than a dozen countries. [...] De Jesus's gospel flows from an experience he had in December 1976. [...]

Before he knew it, he was standing in a luminous marble corridor where trumpets blared and a spectral figure crept toward him. Then the apparition merged with him, and he began to hear a man's voice in his head. "He said, 'Open your Bible,'" De Jesus recalls. "So I opened to Romans 6. And he said, "Read that, that means you're dead to sin; sin can't reign in your life.'" The experience left De Jesus transformed. "Ever since that day, I can't learn from anybody, and I mean no one," he says. He now believes that was the night of Christ's second coming.

In the years that followed, the voice continued to offer new revelations. Then in 1986 it said, "Move to Miami. There you'll have a bridge to all nations." So at age 40, De Jesus, his then-wife Nydia, and their five children came to the Magic City, where he secured a fifteen-minute daily slot on WVCG-AM (1080) and began preaching his controversial message. [...]

In the years that followed, the church increasingly revolved around De Jesus. Then in 1998 he claimed to be the reincarnation of the Apostle Paul. The following year he proclaimed himself "El Otro", a demigod who would lay the foundation for the Lord's return. Finally in 2004 he named himself Jesus Christ and the ultimate authority on the gospel. Today no one but him and his right-hand man, Carlos Cestero are allowed to preach. And De Jesus always dictates the message. Instead of regular sermons, most followers around the world watch videos or simulcasts of these men projected on a screen behind the pulpit.

De Jesus bears little resemblance to the biblical Lamb of God. He wears fine suits and diamond-encrusted rings, drives a 7 Series BMW, and, until recently, lived in a 5000-square-foot Miramar home with Corinthian columns and vaulted ceilings. He also travels with a battalion of guards who wear dark suits and conspicuous earpieces. [...] The question is: Where does all the money go? Some churches help the poor or at least aid congregations in less fortunate regions, but not Creciendo en Gracia. Even those branches in impoverished countries send funds back to headquarters. And expenses are modest: Most employees receive no wages and all the group's congregations meet in rented churches. [...]

He and his followers believe poverty, war, and disease exist largely because Catholicism and other religions have corrupted governments and other institutions. The Creciendo en Gracia Website describes ministers of other faiths as evil and perverse men." And it makes this promise: We are going to shut the mouths of those dogs! We are ready to give our lives for this." [...]

The disturbances have taken various forms. De Jesus's followers have burst into church services in Havana; held simultaneous protests in 22 Colombian cities; and disrupted a Costa Rican Jewish parade with signs that read, "Israel is cursed" and "We are the true chosen people." [...] Besides lashing out at other faiths, some of De Jesus's followers distance themselves from their own families. This is a summary extract from the full article as it appeared in the Miami News Times, Feb. 9 2006, by Mariah Blake