Jose Luis de Jesus Miranda says he is coming to Guatemala — whether the Central American nation wants him or not.
Guatemala and neighboring Honduras and El Salvador have banned the former evangelical priest, arguing he is a security risk because of potential conflicts with Roman Catholic and evangelical groups. But Miranda still plans to fly in on a private jet Saturday to celebrate his 61st birthday and hold a global conference with thousands of followers.
"It has been predestined and angels will make it happen. He is, after all, God himself," said Axel Poessy, Miranda's media director.
If divinity is not enough, Miranda's right-hand man, Carlos Cestero, argues that Guatemala cannot bar U.S. citizens. "He will come and try to enter," he said.
The impending showdown is Miranda's latest attempt to rally his followers in Central America. Members of his church, which is based in Doral, Florida, have torn up images of saints and other religious symbols in El Salvador, and marched in Guatemala and Honduras.
Miranda often takes aim at the Catholic Church, calling all priests child molesters and saying chastity vows go against the Bible's teachings.
In Guatemala, Congress labeled him a terrorist and immigration officials have been instructed to refuse him entry to the country. It was not clear, however, if the government would be able to block his private jet from landing.
According to Cestero, Miranda has been in Guatemala at least 14 times in the past decade, all before he declared himself the antichrist. He holds a congress of followers every year in a different location in the Americas, and this year his sect settled on Guatemala City.
Most followers of Miranda's Growing in Grace church are in Colombia and the Miami area, where they regularly tune in to his Web, television and radio casts.
While followers see him as a savior and the next coming of Christ, critics say he is nothing but a dangerous cult leader.
"What is more evil than all the exorbitant titles associated with him is the power he exercises over his followers," said Daniel Alvarez, an instructor in the department of religious studies at Florida International University who has studied the movement. "He wants attention, shock value, and he's always trying to top what he did before."
Miranda, born in Puerto Rico and living in Miami, founded the Growing in Grace church in 1986. He preaches to followers in some 35 nations, mostly in Latin America, and has 287 radio programs and a 24-hour Spanish-language television network.
He claims to be a living incarnation of Jesus Christ, and preaches that sin and the devil do not exist. In January, he revealed tattoos of the numbers 666 on his forearm, and announced that he and his followers were antichrists because their sect's beliefs supersede those of Jesus Christ's teachings. According to the Bible, the Antichrist is someone who will fill the world with wickedness but be conquered by a second coming of Christ.
Hundreds have followed Miranda's lead by getting "666" tattoos. The number 666 is often associated with the Antichrist or the devil.
In a tidy shop in an upscale, Guatemala City neighborhood, 18-year-old Andrea Recinos hunched over as a tattoo artist carved "666" across her back, decorating the number with angel wings.
"I wanted to show my love to the apostle," she said, referring to Miranda. "I wanted to show the whole world that I am an antichrist."
Other followers get "SSS" tattoos, referring to Miranda's motto of "Salvo, siempre salvo," or "Saved, always saved."
Cestero said some of the sect's members donate 50 percent to 80 percent of their earnings to Growing in Grace, often in appreciation of the church's message that nothing is sinful.
"When someone is thankful, they show it by giving a gift, and the people are thankful for the liberty given to them," he said.