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By Staff Reporter : PNG Today

Stigmata case divides Samoans, expert attributes to religious stress, rapid social change

Rapid social change and the challenge of new religious movements to mainstream Christianity in Samoa may have played a role in a case where a young woman has developed wounds on her body similar to those portrayed in Christian scripture, an expert says.

Toaipuapuaga Opapo Soana'i, 23, developed the stigmata, as the wounds on her hands and feet are called, when she played Jesus in a Sunday school Easter play at the Congregational Church where her father is a minister.

The incident divided Samoans — some saw it as a miracle, while others said it was a hoax and suggested she needed psychological counselling.

Professor Paul Morris from the department of religious studies at Victoria University of Wellington said 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]."

Religious studies Professor Paul Morris

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.


Posted by Staff Reporter : PNG Today on 4:03 PM. Filed under . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Share this Article


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