Overflow Crowds Mark Franklin Graham Festival, One of Paraguay’s Largest Religious Events Ever
Paraguayan President Attends Festival; Thanks Graham for Historic Event
Asuncion, Paraguay, May 16, 2005—On the opening night of the three-day Franklin Graham Festival in Paraguay, local volunteer and chairman Santiago Maldonado told the thousands gathered, “I believe this will be a historic event.” By the end of the weekend and 188,000 people later, his statement was echoed by people on the streets, in the newspapers, and even by the President of the nation.
“This is a Festival like we’ve never seen before,” said Franklin Graham, president and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. “We had thousands of hard-working volunteers, 20,000 youth gathered to pray for six hours one night, and 6,500 women went around the city personally inviting people to the Festival. This may be the best planned and prepared event I’ve ever been a part of.”
Graham, 52, led the Festival in Paraguay at the invitation of local pastors, leaders, and churches. More than 750 churches from multiple denominations participated. The Festival de Esperanza (Festival of Hope) drew overflow crowds each night, May 12-14, to the 40,000-seat Estadio Defensores del Chaco in Asunción, the nation’s largest stadium. By the final night of the Festival, 22,503 people had responded to the invitation to put their faith in Jesus Christ. It was one of the largest religious events in the nation’s history.
Each night, crowds heard Graham’s straightforward message about hope and forgiveness. “I want you to know that you are important to God. Regardless of your race, economic status, and religious background, this is an opportunity to be free and find out what God has planned for your life.”
In addition to those who gathered in the stadium, tens of thousands participated in the Festival each night via live satellite TV shown in ten locations around Paraguay. Also, Saturday morning, 54,000 kids packed the venue, overflowing onto the field for “Festiniños,” a program of fun, drama, and music that teaches children about God’s love.
Earlier in the week, Graham was invited by President Nicanor Duarte Frutos of Paraguay to have lunch at his residence, during which he asked Graham to share the Gospel with all of his Cabinet. An open supporter of the Festival, President Duarte Frutos thanked Graham for bringing such an event to his nation and later attended the opening night with his family.
The mayor of Asunción also recognized the impact of the Festival on the community by presenting an official government sheepskin proclamation declaring Graham an illustrious guest, an honor that was passed into law.
Attendees used more than 400 buses with special routes to the stadium, where in addition to Graham’s nightly messages, they heard lively Latin music by local and international artists, including Spaniard Marcos Vidal, Marcos Witt, Assiria Nascimento, wife of famous soccer player Pele, guitarist Dennis Agajanian with the Gutierrez brothers, and the California-based Tommy Coomes Band.
The Festival is an interdenominational outreach of area churches and volunteers in cooperation with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
During the week, Graham, who also heads international Christian relief organization Samaritan’s Purse, joined teams handing out thousands of gift-filled shoe boxes to underprivileged children in Paraguay as part of the organization’s Operation Christmas Child project. Graham visited children living in one of Asunción’s most impoverished areas, and for many of these kids it was the only gift they have ever received. These gifts are among more than 7 million shoeboxes that are being distributed to needy children in 95 countries this year.
Graham recently concluded two Festivals in Australia drawing more than 100,000 in Hobart and Melbourne. Upcoming events include Lubango, Angola (June 10-12); Chisinau, Moldova (July 8-10); Corpus Christi, Texas (Aug. 19-21); and Shreveport, La. (Nov. 11-13).