This is a transcript from The World Today. The program is broadcast around Australia at 12:10pm on ABC Local Radio.
ELEANOR HALL: Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban weren’t the only international stars attracting attention in Sydney this weekend.
The ‘wedding of the year’ coincided with what some would call ‘the spiritual event of the year’ – a visit from American-based televangelist, Benny Hinn.
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Benny Hinn’s television program is broadcast to millions of people across every continent, and he’s regarded as one of the most influential preachers in the Christian world.
He’s in the business of making miracles in whatever hall or stadium his roadshow rolls through, and that’s exactly what many of his wildly enthusiastic followers were expecting as they filed in to see him in Sydney.
Our reporter, Michael Edwards, went along to see for himself.
MICHAEL EDWARDS: On a cold and windy Friday night at the Homebush Olympic site in Sydney well in excess of 10,000 people have turned up hoping for a miracle.
The first group The World Today encounters is a group of girls in their early twenties, dressed fashionably. They look like they could be up for a big night out at a concert or a nightclub.
(To women) What are you looking for?
VOX POP 1: Um, I guess I believe in the power of God and the way that he can work in people’s lives, so um, I don’t know, there’s nothing really that I’ve come along for, like a miracle that I need in my life, but just kind of to support people who might be looking for that.
MICHAEL EDWARDS: And the man they’ve come to watch perform these miracles is Benny Hinn.
He’s the Palestinian-born American televangelist best known for healing the sick and crippled on television. His program is shown in the early mornings here in Australia.
And if you think locally-based charismatic churches such as Hillsong are popular, Benny Hinn’s appeal makes them seem insignificant.
His millions of devotees span every continent. And while he claims to live frugally his ministry elicits hundreds of millions of dollars in donations.
Judging from the turnout at the Superdome, his appeal is equally strong in Australia.
ROD NICHOLS: I’m sitting on death row with cancer, but I’m a Christian and I believe that the Lord is going to minister to me at this crusade.
MICHAEL EDWARDS: Rod Nichols has come from Hobart.
It’s a fair guess to say almost all attending are devout Christians; a large proportion of them are Australians of Pacific Islander, Asian and African heritage.
Leticia and her friends moved to Australia from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
(To Leticia) What do you know about Benny Hinn?
LETICIA: What I know about Benny Hinn is that he’s an awesome man of God and all he does is God’s work.
MICHAEL EDWARDS: You guys look all very healthy here.
MICHAEL EDWARDS: There’s nothing you need to him to heal tonight?
LETICIA: Oh, my arthritis.
(Sound of music, singing, clapping)
MICHAEL EDWARDS: As much for the message they come for the show. Benny Hinn is a consummate performer, who’d put many of the rock stars who’ve performed at the same venue to shame with his endurance.
He’s on his feet for more than four hours singing, praying and putting his healing hands on dozens of audience members.
On this night alone dozens of people claim to have been cured from various ailments after being touched by him.
One lady told the audience her arthritis was gone, and then as if to script she walked from her wheelchair. Another claimed to have regained the power of hearing.
Wheelchair-bound Maria told The World Today she received a personal blessing.
MARIA: I felt the Lord was touching me. I felt, yes, I felt he was touching me, honestly.
MICHAEL EDWARDS: Can you describe the feeling? Is it a tingling or is it a buzz?
MARIA: Hot and cold, a hot and cold feeling, you know. If you like, all of a sudden you are touched by, by? you know, all of a sudden you feel that hot and cold touch.
MICHAEL EDWARDS: Duk is from Sierra Leone. Before she entered she was using a walking stick. She vowed to walk out without it.
(To Duk) Do you feel better after coming here?
DUK: Yep, because I have pain in my back and my hip. So now little bit is not like before.
MICHAEL EDWARDS: Afterwards she said she’d need the walking stick for a bit longer. Even in the back rows there were claims of miracles.
VOX POP 2: There was chap sitting behind us and he never went on the stage and he got healed from being blind.
MICHAEL EDWARDS: But if getting access to Benny Hinn’s miracles was free, getting access to the man himself was far from it. The televangelist travels with a security entourage of Presidential proportions.
After the show he was promptly ushered to his dressing room, a path well-worn by heavy metal bands and other performers arguably preaching not quite such a wholesome message.
My request for an interview was met with a polite refusal, a gentle push on the arm to move on from one of his substantial bodyguards who kindly added a heartfelt “God bless you sir” to see me on my way.
Benny Hinn was in Australia for only a few days but to some in the audience the miracles are here to stay.
VOX POP 3: You’re going to see it happening on street corners, it’s going to be coming out into the public. People’s arms are going to get opened up, they’re going to get freed from all these bondages and that’s just what God’s busy doing.
ELEANOR HALL: Michael Edwards speaking to some of those attending Benny Hinn’s Crusade in Sydney on Friday.