Divine warning? Or is it just a hoax?
Is it a coincident that a thundering explosion and a deadly blaze is followed by revelations about a woman claiming to be carrying the marks of Jesus Christ?
Don’t these incidents bring back memories of the incidents of 2009 where an image of Mary spotted at the John Williams Building was followed by the fire at the then Kitano Tusitala Hotel and the deadly tsunami which struck the south coast?
These questions and more have gripped the nation’s attention as the result of the events of the past few days.
The questions are openly posed on social media attracting thousands of comments and views.
In Samoa, the subject has become the topic of conversations throughout the country.
Yesterday, the Samoa Observer spoke with 23-year-old Toaipuapuaga Opapo, the daughter of an E.F.K.S. Reverend, who has become the centre of attention since her stigmata story was made public.
Does she believe the explosion on Monday was a coincident?
Are these signs?
“I think it is a wake up call for Samoa,” she said.
Toa said she was at home at Vaitele when a woman called to tell her about the explosion.
“I looked out my window and saw the fire from my room. Immediately I felt the pain, I felt for the people who will be affected.”
Toa said she attempted to contact her father so they could pray together.
When he couldn’t come home right away, her mother picked her up and took her on Beach Road where she could see the fire. Her father joined her there.
“I knelt on the side of the road facing the fire and poured my heart out to God for Samoa,” she said, adding that as she was praying she lost sense of where she was.
“I closed my eyes and I heard a voice saying that the tank won’t explode and the fire won’t go off. People must kneel down and ask God for a miracle.
“God can work miracles.”
According to Toa, God worked a miracle that day.
“We could have lost so many lives that day but God saved us,” she said.
“I didn’t work a miracle, God did.”
She added that the wake up call for Samoa is that people need to be appreciate of each other and know that the next five minutes of our lives is an uncertainty.
“I know many people don’t believe me but that is okay. I feel that my mission is to spread the word of God. We will all one day be judged.
According to Reverend Opapo Oeti, his daughters marks appeared fresh again during the fire.
“I saw blood again coming from her hands, her legs, the marks of the crown of thorns and the spear sign on her side.”
On Monday, Rev. Opapo said he joined his daughter in prayer on the side of the road, adding it was the first time he has knelt in such a public place.
“If this is how God is send his message and vision to Samoa, who are we to question it?” he asked.
Later that day, Rev. Opapo and his daughter went to Father Mikaele where they joined in prayer at the Catholic Cathedral on Beach Road.
Two weeks ago, the story of Toa emerged, dividing opinions among Samoans here and abroad.
Some people – including Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi – believe it’s a miracle. Others have suggested that she is a fake, calling for her to be delivered from demonic spirits.
From the start, Toa’s family has maintained that it’s up to people what they want to believe.
“When I first saw the vision, I was confused… I did not think that the messiah will reveal himself to me in this way…I was thinking I’m not a pastor, I’m not a missionary,” Toa said.
“But me? I’m a sickly person. It’s been three years since I’ve been carrying this sickness. It’s a sickness without a cure. All I know is that Jesus is the doctor of all doctors.”
To receive a vision from God is humbling but she added that it is also a message to the church and to Samoa.
“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. It starts from the people who are heading the churches, the sin begins there…”
In the search for answers, some of Toa’s relatives approached a traditional fortuneteller who gave them a different story, involving someone who is dead.
But this hasn’t diminished Toa’s growing number of followers who have been flooding to take pictures with her and be blessed by her.
Toa’s story has reached far beyond Samoa.
Yesterday, ABC Australia quoted Professor Paul Morris from the department of religious studies at Victoria University of Wellington as saying that it was extremely unusual for stigmata to occur outside of the Roman Catholic Church.
"It is unusual... there are literally a handful of non-Catholic stigmata cases," Professor Morris told the ABC.
"But the Congregational Church — the largest in Samoa — has undergone tremendous pressure over the last 15 to 20 years from [other churches].
"In the history of stigmata incidents, they arise in a particular social reality and context and call those who are ebbing away from faith, back to faith.
"So in that way, it isn't all that unusual in terms of the context, but, she should be Catholic."
"Auto-suggestibility can lead to this physical transformation [stigmata]."
But questions remain over what would be an appropriate response to the case.
"The first response must be that this is a breach of nature, and that it doesn't make sense," Professor Morris said.
But he said there was good evidence to see it not simply as a hoax, which is generally the norm.
"The other explanation is that it's psycho-somatic, that intensity of identification... where a young woman or man identify with Jesus to an extreme degree," Professor Morris said. "This auto-suggestibility [can] lead to this physical transformation."
Professor Morris cited rapid social change and the challenges of religious security, which can catalyse "a call to faith", for reasons why it could have happened in Samoa.
In the meantime, Toa said she is grateful to those who have visited her from the beginning. She added that her door is always open to anyone who wants to talk to her and share the love of God.