Bangalore, India (UCAN) — An internationally known Christian evangelist ended his three-day prayer meeting in southern India as protesters called for the resignation of the state government that had allowed it to proceed.
Despite continued outcries by right-wing Hindu groups, American preacher Benny Hinn completed his “Festival of Blessings” Jan. 23 in Bangalore, the capital of Karnataka state, 2,060 kilometers south of New Delhi.
The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP, Indian people’s party), along with Hindu groups, led a two-week campaign against the meeting, accusing the state government of encouraging Hinn to “Christianize India.”
Before the prayer meeting began, the protest turned violent, with activists blocking roads, tearing down billboards advertising the event and setting fire to some public buses. On the second day of the event, more than a dozen parked motorcycles were set ablaze near the meeting site.
On the last day of the meeting, state opposition leader B.S. Yediyurappa demanded the resignation of Karnataka Chief Minister Dharam Singh.
Addressing a public protest of about 1,500 people, Yediyurappa shouted: “The chief minister has no moral right to continue, he must resign. Why did he permit the prayer meet? Why did he attend it?”
“We also demand a judicial probe into the so-called miracles” of the preacher, the opposition leader continued.
Despite the protests, police estimated that 1.8 million people attended the festival over the three days. Organizers had rented and prepared a 1.2-million-square-meter, state-managed airfield for the event.
Hinn, who flew into the city on a chartered flight the night of Jan. 20, the eve of his meeting, stayed in a luxury hotel.
Media reports say Hinn was born in 1953 in Israel to a Greek father and Armenian mother. He claims that God first appeared to him when he was 11.
Some reports tout him as the world’s most successful faith healer. He received $89 million in donations in 2002, according to officials with his ministry, World Healing Center Church. Hinn’s “This Is Your Day” show is one of the most-watched Christian TV programs in the world, with viewers in 190 countries.
“India is a spiritually discerning nation. This huge crowd is a testimony that India is a nation that seeks God. India has a unique atmosphere, unlike any other place on earth,” Hinn said during the meeting.
On the final day, after surveying the crowds, the preacher said: “10 million have come here over these three days, I love India. It is great to be here. I feel like an Indian myself. I am praying for you. I have asked so many out there in the U.S. to pray for you. Give the Lord a mighty hand.”
Hinn claimed that “over 1 million people have been healed.” He went on to tell the crowd that “faith will arise in some of you later, and you will be healed then.”
Several ambulances entered the grounds. Near the dais and throughout the crowd, several patients lay on stretchers and sat in wheelchairs. Many mentally challenged children were given front-row seats. Still, there were altercations between police personnel and patients near the stage, since only selected people were allowed to go on stage for the “healing touch.”
Some who sought the “touch” were disappointed. One of them was M. Asirvatham, founder of Murugapan Education Trust. He hoped his deafness in one ear would be cured. “Maybe they’ve set this all up. Perhaps they told their branches in the city to arrange for people (to) act like they were disabled before and cured now,” he told UCA News.
One of the BJP’s allegations was that the evangelist gathered crowds in the name of miracles to “make money through such mass conversion rallies.”
On the first day of the meet, Hinn said, “We will not be taking an offering today, because the Spirit tells me so. I will let you know tomorrow what the Spirit tells me.”
The next day he announced, “I came to give, not to receive from you.” In light of this he said his ministries would contribute US$100,000 to help Indian victims of the tsunami.
Chempakasseril K. John, former president of Bangalore Christian Writers Forum, expressed the sentiments of many Christians in saying that Hinn preaches Christ, “so there is nothing wrong in attending his meeting.”
He told UCA News that he could not understand why the BJP “is making so much of a fuss about” the meet. “Don’t Hindu God-men and God-women go to Christian nations? Are they opposed there?” he asked.
© UCAN 2005 – UCAN (Union of Catholic Asian News) is linked to UCIP (International Catholic Union of the Press). With several offices around Asia, UCA News is the largest Asian Church news agency. Originally published on 24 January 2005.