Woman claims she developed Christ-like wounds after playing Jesus in a play
08 April 2016, 11:57
Apia, Samoa -Claims that a young woman developed Christ-like wounds after playing Jesus in a play have sharply divided opinion in Samoa, igniting debate over whether the bleeding cuts to her body are miraculous or a hoax.
The country's prime minister is among those who believe Toaipuapuaga Opapo Soana'i developed stigmata -- wounds corresponding to the injuries Christ suffered on the cross -- after starring in a Sunday school production at Easter.
Others are sceptical about the claims, dismissing the 23-year-old's wounds as a hoax or psychosomatic injuries brought on by religious hysteria.
Veteran Samoan journalist Cherelle Jackson said the case had prompted heated debate, including threats of violence in Samoa's online chat forums, unprecedented in a country that is normally a model for religious harmony.
"This story has generated one of the most aggressive, intense and no doubt the most widespread discussions on Samoan public forums online," she said.
Media have run images of Soana'i with bleeding wounds on her hands, feet and forehead, with believers making pilgrimages to her home village.
The fact that stigmata is usually a Catholic phenomenon but Soana'i is from the Congregational Christian Church of Samoa, a Protestant denomination, is contributing to the furore. There are doubters among followers of both faiths.
"We should be happy about these events, that it has happened to a daughter of a pastor in Samoa," the Catholic Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa'ilele Malielegao told reporters this week.
"If it happens to someone, it means they are holy... in most cases the Catholic church knows best about these events and it happens to mainly preachers, nuns and especially those who are devoted."
But pastor Samoa Unoi, from Apia's Peace Chapel Church was adamant no miracle had taken place.
"It is not a sign from the Lord," he told the Samoa Observer this week.
Professor Paul Morris, a religious studies specialist at Wellington's Victoria University, said even if the wounds were not a divine message, it did not mean they were a hoax.
"The other explanation is that it's psychosomatic, that intensity of identification... where a young woman or man identifies with Jesus to an extreme degree," he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
"This auto-suggestibility (can) lead to this physical transformation."
A source from Samoa's National Council of Churches, who did not want to be named, said he hoped the controversy would not cause further rifts in the deeply religious Pacific nation, regardless of the merits of the claims.
"There is no official stance on this issue, but the last thing we want is for it to divide members and our peaceful religious nation," they said.