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Church Disassociates From Evangelist´s Prayer Meeting As Hindu Protests Mount

Updated: January 20, 2005 05:00 PM GMT
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The Catholic Church has openly disassociated itself from a prayer meeting conducted by an internationally known evangelist, amid continuing protests by Hindus.

Several Hindu groups have been protesting American preacher Benny Hinn´s three-day "Festival of Blessings," which started on the afternoon of Jan. 21 in Bangalore, 2,060 kilometers south of New Delhi.

The festival is taking place at a 1.2-million-square-meter, state-managed airfield that was rented for the event. Special preparations include high-powered sound systems and closed-circuit televisions. Estimates of attendance over the three days range from 400,000 to 1.5 million people.

The festival ran into controversy after Hindu groups opposed to Christian preaching began to protest. Members of some of the groups were seen tearing down huge signboards and banners for the meeting and burning effigies of Hinn.

As protests continued, Bangalore Catholic archdiocese called a press conference on Jan. 18 at which Archbishop Bernard Moras of Bangalore spoke to the media. The Catholic archdiocese "is not involved directly or indirectly in organizing the ´Festival of Blessings,´" he said.

"Everybody has the right to preach about Christ, but that doesn´t mean it should have the fanfare and hype. I think the show is attracting too much attention through unnecessary publicity," the archbishop continued.

"Those who want to go, let them decide. I wouldn´t ask people to go or not to go. That is the clear stand of the Catholic Church in Bangalore," he said.

In Archbishop Moras´ view, a Christian preacher "should draw the people of God to his Master, and not to himself." The prelate said he was not sure "if Benny Hinn has condemned any religion or religious practice," but he insisted that "nobody has a right to do so."

The archbishop was referring to pamphlets circulated on Jan. 15 in the city that declared, "Idolatry is like prostitution and drunkenness." The pamphlets sparked protest statements from several Hindu groups.

Festival organizers clarified that the pamphlet was issued not by them but by "some pastor," but this did not quell the protests.

On Jan. 19 a group of Hindu priests demonstrated before the state legislature building, shouting slogans against Christian preaching. They demanded that the government ensure no religious conversion takes place at the meeting.

Some groups called for a "bandh," or general strike, on Jan. 21 that would close roads, offices and shops in the city. Meanwhile, banners demanding that Benny Hinn "go back" and declaring him a "false prophet" were placed at main traffic junctions.

A lawyers´ association in the state, along with some Hindu groups, filed an unsuccessful petition asking the state High Court to stop the meeting. A half-hour program that two TV channels in the state ran for three days showed some people calling the evangelist "a fraud" and "a cheat."

Harnahalli Ramaswamy, a former state minister, told a Jan. 19 protest meeting of some 200 people at a public function that allowing Hinn´s meeting "is like opening the floodgates to scores of people who look upon India as a fertile ground for their conspiracies."

Despite the fierce opposition, Karnataka Chief Minister Dharam Singh reassured organizers that "the show will go on and sufficient police protection has been arranged." He said, "Freedom of practice of religion is permitted in this country and we have no right to stop the Benny Hinn prayer meeting."

Assembly of God pastor Paul Thangiah, chief organizer of the event, told a press conference that Hinn is "not in India to convert or allure people to Christianity."

Another organizer, 72-year-old T.C. George of Pentecostal Fellowship of India, insisted that Hinn is "here only to pray for India, especially in the wake of the recent tsunami tragedy that has left death and despair all around us."

He said Hinn "was once an Assembly of God minister who left but still has a good relationship" with it. "Our beliefs and his are the same," George added.

In February 2004 Hinn held a meeting in Mumbai, western India, that more than a million people attended. At the time, Cardinal Ivan Dias of Bombay (Mumbai) issued a letter asking all Catholics to stay away from it.

Such distancing comes primarily because of theological differences. "I am aware of the difference between Catholic teaching and Benny Hinn´s," said retired Archbishop Ignatius Pinto of Bangalore, who is listed as a patron of the Bangalore event.

"Our teaching comes from the magisterium, and we are more orthodox even in our interpretation of Scripture," the archbishop explained. Hinn´s ministry does not recognize the Blessed Mother as the Mother of God.

The Catholic leader said organizers approached him a year ago and he agreed to be a patron, looking at it as "a religious event." He pointed out: "Being a patron does not imply that I have to agree with everything they do or preach. People have a conscience and they are free to decide." Archbishop Pinto retired and Archbishop Moras succeeded him on July 22, 2004.

Hinn, based in the United States, produces a daily TV show called "This Is Your Day." He is a proponent of what some call the "Prosperity Gospel" or the "Word-Faith Movement." Prosperity Gospel supporters believe that faith helps them obtain anything they want, be it health, wealth or personal success.

END

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