Sun, Sep 28, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Faith healer stirs up a storm in Fiji with miracle show

AFP , SUVA

A religious storm has hit Fiji after a faith healer attracted thousands, including the president and the prime minister, to his travelling miracle show.

So fierce is the row that when the Fiji Times questioned the credibility of German born Reverend Reinhard Bonnke, Information Minister Simione Kaitani issued a statement saying the paper was the "anti-Christ" which insulted Christianity and the 100,000 Fijians who had witnessed the miracles here.

The faithful flocked to the national stadium for three nights. Thousands clapped and cheered as wheelchairs were thrown aside by people who said they had been bedridden for years.

A blind man whose eyesight started deteriorating after a stint with the British testing nuclear bombs in the Pacific more than 30 years ago sobbed like a child after he said he was healed.

Bonnke reportedly healed 27 people on his first night -- the deaf, blind and those crippled by other ailments were wheeled, carried and stretchered to the national stadium to experience the miracle crusade.

He regaled the faithful with tales of how mountains of wheelchairs would be left behind following his African crusades.

"There is a pervading sense of hopelessness," one critic, Jone Dakuvula of the lobby group Citizen Constitutional Forum, told reporters.

"People like Bonnke personify the God everyone's turned to; it is after all natural for human beings to turn to religion when there is no hope," he said.

Bonnke was treated like a king. His entourage was always with a police escort. He was whisked around the capital in a limousine.

"We did not provide any special security arrangement for him but we expected the crowd he'd pull and so we deployed more officers," police spokesman Mesake Koroi told reporters.

Koroi described Bonnke as "a diplomat of the biggest nation, heaven."

He dined privately with President Josefa Iloilo upon arrival and with Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase.

Bonnke has been the subject of newspaper letters columns since his departure.

"The Devil also performs incredible miracles. How can you make out the difference?" wrote Sanaila Ravia in an editor's column.

"Bonnke: Miracle man or heretic?" the newspaper said, prompting the Bonnke crusade organizers to mount a defense.

Another writer, Kalisito Tunaulu, described in the editor's column Bonnke as "special and more than a national leader."

Aida Whippy reminded readers that such evangelists "have been prophesied by Jesus Christ himself to appear towards the prophesied last days in creating miracles that would astound millions."

But Jeremaia Soko, another writer, described Bonnke's miracles as "cheap imitations."

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