The annual "March for Jesus" event in Brazil drew more than 1.5 million evangelical Christians Monday.
In its 17th year, the event brings together hundreds of evangelical churches in a country that is home to the world's largest Roman Catholic population. Seventy-four percent of the country describes themselves as Roman Catholic.
The march is held each year on the same day the Catholic Church celebrates the Corpus Christi holiday, which is not observed by evangelical Protestants but is a national holiday in Brazil.
Participants marched 2.5 miles in San Paulo and heard music from Christian bands and messages from preachers and local celebrities, according to The Associated Press.
The event was sponsored by Reborn in Christ Church, whose leaders had recently returned after serving a combined year's worth of U.S. legal punishment for attempted money smuggling. The punishment included a prison sentence, house arrest, and probation. Estevam Hernandes Filho and his wife, Sonia Haddad Moraes Hernandes, had failed to declare $56,000 in cash that they had carried on a flight from San Paulo to Miami. The money was hidden among a child's backpack, a Bible case and other bags.
The march is partly seen as a welcome home event for Filho and Hernandes.
But participant Andrea Pazin told AP that the march was not just about the influential ministry couple because it takes place annually with or without them.
"They are important to us – they founded the church," Pazin said. "But what is happening here is bigger than them. It's a celebration for Jesus."
Last year, more than 48,000 churches and over 850,000 homes in Brazil participated in one of the largest evangelistic outreaches in history. The television outreach, which featured Brazilian soccer superstar Kaka sharing his testimony of hope and faith in Jesus Christ, was part of the My Hope Brazil project, a ministry of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
During the three-day outreach last November, local Christians invited friends and family members to their homes to watch evangelistic programs that would be broadcast during prime time. Following the program, viewers of the program were encouraged to share their personal testimonies and invite those who gathered in their house to accept or rededicate their lives to Jesus Christ.
My Hope Brazil and March for Jesus are some of the large-scale evangelical events that reflect the movement's strong growth in Brazil. Evangelical Protestants have grown from nine percent in 1990 to 15 percent, according to the 2000 census. Meanwhile, the Catholic population has decreased from 84 percent in 1990 to 74 percent in the same period.
The increase in evangelical growth has caused some resentment from Brazil's Catholic Church, which has accused evangelical Protestant churches of seeking to convert Catholics.