At an Independence Day party Wednesday, I met a young girl who started conversations with strangers by hugging them. The gesture startled guests, but touched them too. I was reminded later that there are millions of people who crave and believe in the healing power of a hug.
Mata Amritanandamayi, better known as “Amma” or “the hugging saint,” will receive thousands of followers today and Friday in Oak Brook. Like the young guest at the party, Amma blesses each member of her audience with a healing embrace.
It is estimated that this holy woman has given more than 26 million hugs in this role since she was a teen. In fact, she has received and hugged more than 40,000 people in a single sitting. She does not turn people away or charge a fee. And she does not require recipients to abide by her Hindu faith.
“There is no harm in having many religions and faiths”, she has said. “But it is harmful to think they are different, and that one faith is higher and another lower.”
In a speech to the United Nations in 1995, Amma described the real source of world conflict as “lack of awareness of our true nature.” It is unclear if she hugged each ambassador.
A documentary about Amma’s unconventional ministry debuted at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival.
But Amma’s humanitarian efforts include more than hugs. With official NGO status granted by the United Nations, Amma oversees aid to the needy, educational institutions for the underprivileged and other programs to help the planet.
Mother’s Kitchen, the North American arm of Amma’s charity, runs inner-city soup kitchens in more than 30 American cities including Chicago.
If you need a hug, you can catch Amma today and Friday at the Oak Brook Hills Marriott Resort, 3500 Midwest Road in Oak Brook. Morning sessions begin at 10 a.m. and last though the afternoon. Evening sessions begin at 7:30 p.m. and last into the night.