NEW DELHI, Feb 12 (OneWorld) – American faith-healer Benny Hinn‘s India visit beginning Friday has become a contentious issue, with the Indian Christian community divided on whether or not to welcome the popular Evangelist television star.
Hinn’s three-day festival, which is expected to draw hundreds of thousand people in the western Indian city of Mumbai, has prompted the Archbishop of the city, Cardinal Ivan Dias, to exhort Catholics to stay away from the show.
“Mr Benny Hinn, despite his popularity on TV shows, is not accepted even by many of his own colleagues,” Cardinal Dias said in a statement to Catholic groups, an Indian newspaper reported last week.
“It will be wise to strongly discourage your parishioners from attending his programs,” he says.
But the All India Catholic Union is not unduly worried about the show. “While the Cardinal is certainly within his rights to urge parishioners not to go for the show, India is a free country with a history of congenial cultural sensitivities,” says John Dayal, National Vice President of the All India Catholic Union.
“This is spiritual India,” stresses Dayal. “If the people want to see the show, let them feel free to do so,” he says.
Some 700,000 to 800,000 people, including some of the city’s top business community who are also the organizers, are expected to attend the show, called, “Festival of Blessing: Praying for India.”
The show is being billed as Hinn’s biggest show ever.
Reports from Mumbai state that posters have come up all over the city announcing Hinn’s show to be held in a sprawling ground with 32 giant video screens. A separate VIP gallery has been set up to seat some 170,000 people.
Carpets are being laid out on a 1.2 kilometer-long stretch to welcome the Dallas-based Miracle Man. Arrangements have been made for parking 60,000 cars.
Benny Hinn, 50, who hosts a popular daily television program, “This Is Your Day!,” is the founder of the World Outreach Center at Orlando, Florida where he addresses a congregation of 12,000 persons every week.
Born in Israel of a Greek father and Armenian mother, Hinn reportedly boasts a large following in the West, especially the US.
Hinn’s followers believe he has special healing powers and has cured hundreds of people of ailments such as arthritis, asthma, back pain and neck pain.
But the Mumbai Cardinal is not among his supporters. In his statement, the Cardinal refers to Hinn’s “false prophecies, his alleged vision of angels and contact with the dead, his emphasis on the prosperity of the Gospel and exaggerated physical healings.”
His worries, though, are not shared by other Christian groups. “There is no cause for undue concern,” says Dominic Emmanuel, spokesperson for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India. “India is a free country and has various religious sects,” he says.
Christian leaders believe globalized India will be a platform for different religious voices. Emmanuel stresses that it is significant that the Indian government, which earlier did not allow foreign preachers to visit India, has granted a visa to Hinn.
“But I can’t see what the problem is,” he says. “Let the people decide for themselves whether or not they want to attend the show,” Emmanuel says.
Among those voicing the Mumbai Cardinal’s concern is Hawaii-based global journal, Hinduism Today, produced by a Hindu religious sect.
The organization stresses that Hinn’s miraculous healing powers are yet to be authenticated.
“Cardinal Dias is indeed correct when he says that Benny Hinn is “not accepted even by many of his own colleagues,” says the organization on its Web site.
“There has been, in fact, a concerted effort to investigate Benny Hinn by the Christians themselves, particularly his claims of miracle healing. According to these investigators, they could not find a single provable incident of miraculous healing,” it says.
“Hindus concerned about his presence might take the same approach as the Christians themselves, in investigating faith healings done by Hinn and trying to find a single provable case,” it says.
Hinn’s visit comes at a time when Christian groups in India are under attack for allegedly converting Indian Hindus and members of indigenous communities to Christianity. Militant Hindu groups have attacked Christian missionaries and churches in recent times to protest what they maintain are forced conversions.
“I hope the Mumbai event passes off peacefully,” says Dayal.