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Sect says 'mission' not show of force

Authorities say Iglesia ni Cristo event could draw up to a million participants

Members of the Iglesia ni Cristo sect gather in Manila on Tuesday (Photo by Rene Sandajan) Members of the Iglesia ni Cristo sect gather in Manila on Tuesday (Photo by Rene Sandajan)
  • Joe Torres, Manila
  • Philippines
  • February 28, 2012
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Security was tight as tens of thousands of people belonging to the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) or Church of Christ sect flocked to Manila today from nearby provinces for a gathering dubbed a "grand evangelical mission."

As of 3 pm (0700 GMT), police estimated the crowd to have swelled to almost 150,000. Authorities kept watch from a distance as buses carrying INC members arrived as early as 2 am.

National police spokesman Agrimero Cruz said authorities expected the crowd to reach a million participants.

The INC, considered the largest ethnic Christian organization in the Philippines, boasts a membership of two million, though pollsters estimate actual membership at about 1.5 million.

INC leaders today denied newspaper reports that the event was a show of political force by the sect.

"This religious activity is one of the means by which the Church propagates the teachings of God in the Bible," said spokesperson Bienvenido Santiago.

News reports, however, quoted an INC insider saying that the event is "more than just a grand evangelical mission."

The source said it is also meant to serve as a message to President Benigno Aquino and his allies that the INC was “not happy” with how Aquino had been running the government.

“This is just another way to show our displeasure,” the source told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Aquino said he would not attend the event.

"I was informed that my presence might … give a political tinge to the whole event," he said. Aquino said the INC activity is apparently a preparation for the sect's centennial celebration in 2014.

The president said INC leaders informed the presidential palace that the activity was "part of their religious obligations and part of their faith."

Impeached Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona is also not attending the gathering, said his spokesman Midas Marquez.

"The Chief Justice will not attend the prayer and evangelical mission to avoid accusations that he is using the prayer rally for political purposes," Marquez said.

Retired Archbishop Oscar Cruz, a vocal critic of the government, said he was invited to attend but declined because he is not clear about the purpose of the activity.
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