By Liz Robbins, The New York Times.
The sky-blue walls of the former Vaudeville theater thundered with faith on Sunday morning in Corona, Queens. Some 600 worshipers rose to join the Latino band in song, shaking their tambourines, heads and hands in electric rapture.
The capacity crowd quieted when the pastor, Victor Tiburcio, took his place on stage, in front of a backdrop designed to look like the New York skyline and lit up like the set of a late-night talk show. Instead, it was the altar for his Pentecostal megachurch Aliento de Vida (Breath of Life), which Mr. Tiburcio and his wife, Hattie, immigrants from the Dominican Republic, opened in Queens 12 years ago.
Pastor Tiburcio had an important message for his congregation.
“We will have tickets for everybody here,” he said in Spanish, prompting more clapping.
The free tickets were for the festival this Saturday in Central Park featuring Luis Palau, one of the world’s leading evangelical Christian figures, whose event is expected to draw 60,000 people to the Great Lawn. For months it has been promoted not only in churches, but also on billboards, on the radio and in the subways, and it promises to be the largest evangelical Christian gathering in New York since the Rev. Billy Graham led a crusade in Queens 10 years ago.
The size of the festival belies the city’s secular reputation and speaks to the vibrant evangelical movement in New York. The phenomenon is driven largely by immigrant-led churches that have proliferated in the boroughs outside Manhattan.
Nearly 900 of the 1,700 churches participating in the festival are Hispanic, organizers said. Latino leaders were the ones two years ago to invite Mr. Palau, an endearing, white-haired bilingual immigrant from Argentina who has built a reputation as the Hispanic Billy Graham, but African-American and Korean-American church leaders quickly got involved in the planning.
The six-hour event is expected to highlight the multidenominational and multiethnic flavor of evangelical Christianity in New York and its suburbs, drawing hundreds of churches whose members also hail from the Caribbean, Africa and Asia.