Despite the disapproval of the Catholic church, thousands of Christians here are flocking to hear charismatic evangelist Benny Hinn.
The crowds thronging the meeting of the American preacher are expected to peak on Sunday, the last day of the three-day event, say the organisers.
“We have made arrangements for 500,000 people though the numbers could be much higher,” says organiser Gul Kripalani. Others say a million people are expected to attend the meet at the Bandra-Kurla complex in suburban Mumbai on Sunday.
Flush with funds, the Indian organisers of Hinn’s meeting have chartered more than 200 buses to ferry in people from different parts of this city.
Despite a warning from Mumbai’s Archbishop, Cardinal Ivan Dias, busloads of Catholics are rushing to hear Hinn speak.
“I know the bishop has advised us against attending but I will go,” says Joe D’Souza, an advocate from north Mumbai. Like all pious Catholics, he also plans to attend mass Saturday evening or Sunday morning.
“I have watched him on Miracle Net and he is a powerful speaker,” says D’ Souza.
However, parishes in Mumbai distributed a statement from Cardinal Dias saying: “Benny Hinn, despite his popularity on television shows, is not accepted even by many of his own colleagues.”
Dias told local priests: “It will be wise to strongly discourage your parishioners from attending his programmes.”
In his statement, the cardinal hit out at Hinn for “false prophecies, his alleged vision of angels and contact with the dead, his emphasis on the prosperity of the gospel and exaggerated physical healings”.
However, priests at several parishes told newspapers here that they didn’t expect the appeal to work.
The charismatic movement and new prayer groups like the Believers, Pentecostals and Jehovah’s Witnesses have taken away a large number of Catholics from the mainstream faith.
Catholic leaders feel Hinn’s World Outreach Centre could play an important role in weaning away members in the aftermath of Hinn’s prayer meet in Mumbai.
The meet has been grandiosely called “The Festival of Blessings – Pray for India”.
Like other preachers, Hinn will “heal the sick”. A special enclosure has been erected for the sick and needy near the stage where Hinn will hold forth.
People suffering from ailments such as arthritis, asthma, back pain and neck pain will be “cured”.
Though rationalist groups have questioned the efficacy of such “healers”, those with ailments continue to attend such meets in large numbers.
Kripalani said invites had been sent out to Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani and Shiv Sena leader Uddhav Thackeray though he admits that neither has agreed to attend.
Organisers say 32 giant video screens have been put up at the complex to enable the people to see and hear Hinn. A VIP gallery has come up. Parking for 60,000 cars has been provided.