3 Central Amer. nations ban self-styled Antichrist

Guatemala City, Guatemala - Three Central American governments have banned a man claiming to be the Antichrist from entering their countries, outraged by his inflammatory preaching against the Catholic Church and organized religion.

El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala have banned Jose de Jesus Miranda, who heads a cult-like movement with sermons televised from Miami to dozens of mostly Latin American nations and wants to join followers at a rally next week in Guatemala.

A former heroin addict who was briefly imprisoned as a youth in his native Puerto Rico, Miranda, 60, talks openly in a video on his Web site about how he loved cocaine and dreamed of working in a Colombian drug lab.

He has the number 666 identifying the Antichrist tattooed on his arm but says he is Jesus Christ reborn on Earth, arguing Saint Paul's teachings show this is what Antichrist means.

He says other priests are "faggots," and makes fun of Holy Week customs in Latin America, calling heavy statues of Jesus that Catholics parade though streets "little dolls."

"The pope should be ashamed," shouts Miranda in Spanish into a microphone. "He should wear pants like a man. He should tell the truth and stop teaching shit."

Tony Saca, the president of strongly Catholic El Salvador, barred Miranda from entering the country in March, describing him as "a danger to mental health." Miranda said the country would suffer an earthquake because of the decision.

"It's the new Inquisition," said Carlos Cestero, Miranda's right-hand man, known as the 'Bishop as Bishops'. "These small nations are clearly puppets of the Catholic Church," he said.

Central America, especially Guatemala, has seen a surge in converts to a variety of Christian churches in recent decades. In Guatemala, for instance, about 40 percent of the population now belongs to non-Catholic Christian churches.

Miranda's ministry began in 1986 in a Miami warehouse. He says it has congregations in over 20 countries, mostly in Latin America. It counts with its own 24-hour radio and TV station.

In one video, the leader of the "Growing in Grace" church, sporting slicked hair, tailored suits and gold chains, rolls up his sleeves to reveal the number 666 tattooed on his forearm.

Hundreds of followers have now tattooed themselves with the number saying it is a symbol of love and not the sign of Satan. They say there is no devil, no hell and no such thing as sin.

The ministry has no formal membership system, but church representatives say his television audience numbers in the millions, bringing multimillion dollar donations.

Some of his more generous followers have given him businesses, luxury cars, jewels and opulent houses in Houston and Miami Beach.

Detractors say Miranda is not God resurrected but a dangerous cult leader. One evangelical preacher in El Salvador called him a "megalomaniac" and likened him to Jim Jones, who led 900 followers into a mass suicide-murder in 1978.

Miranda's devotees plan to attend the rally in Guatemala on April 21 and 22, coinciding with his 61st birthday.