The story of a young Samoan woman claiming to be carrying the marks of Jesus Christ’s suffering is making news around the world. Tessa Wong of the BBC writes:
A Samoan woman’s claims that she has stigmata has gripped the Pacific Island nation in recent weeks.
Toaipuapuaga Opapo, 23, says bleeding wounds appeared on her body while she was at church on Good Friday. Her story, widely covered in the largely Christian country, has triggered a national debate on the truth of her claims.
Stigmata is a phenomenon where believers say they have crucifixion marks or bleeding similar to that of Christ’s.
Ms Opapo claimed the wounds appeared on her palms, feet, forehead and her side while she was performing as Jesus Christ in a church play re-enacting the crucifixion last month.
Footage of her at the church broadcast on television shows what appears to be blood running down her arms, and later emerging from her side.
In a subsequent television interview with TV1 Samoa, she claimed to be spontaneously bleeding while on camera. The station could not independently verify her claim.
“I’m just another human being… but my body has been used as a reminder because God knows that the faith of his servants are dying,” she said in the interview, also claiming she had a “sickness” for the past three years which caused her to have visions.
Her story has been greeted with both scepticism and joy in Samoa.
Some, including the country’s Catholic Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailelel Malielagaoi, have called it a miracle.
He was quoted in the Samoa Observer newspaper as saying: “We should be happy about these events... if it happens to someone, it means they are holy.”
Others, however, have accused her of manufacturing a hoax.
“Still can’t get my head over this. Those (are) inflicted wounds. She needs medical attention (and) counselling!” said one commenter on TV1 Samoa’s Facebook page.
Divide across faiths
One reason for the split in opinion may be because many Samoans are Protestant Christians, while stigmata has been a mostly Catholic phenomenon. Ms Opapo is a Protestant.
Merita Huch, a news editor with TV1 Samoa, told the BBC: “This is a huge thing, it’s dividing the whole country across the faiths.”
“The Catholic Church has since been taking care of her, they have held a Mass for her. There have been villages who have invited her as they want to meet and touch her.
“But there are other churches who are warning people not to believe it, saying it is the work of the devil... Some people say she was possessed by an old boyfriend’s spirit.”
Repeated phone calls for comment by the BBC to Ms Opapo’s church, the Congregational Christian Church in Samoa (CCCS), were rejected.
Religious studies Professor Paul Morris told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that the case could be a response to “the tremendous pressure” the CCCS - the largest in Samoa - has been under from other churches in recent decades.
Another possible explanation for the case was “psycho-somatic, that intensity of identification... where a young woman or man identify with Jesus to an extreme degree”, he was quoted as saying.