Evangelicals from across Brazil flooded San Paulo Thursday for the "March for Jesus" event as live Christian bands accompanied the more than one million marchers.
The annual march, organized by evangelical churches, featured a concert with 30 Christian bands carried on 17 flatbed trucks performing live as participants marched through Brazil's financial capital, according to Agence France-Presse. Participants also protested homosexuality ahead of what some regard as the world's largest gay pride parade on Sunday.
In 2006, some 2.8 million marched in the Gay Pride parade in Brazil. Organizers say they expect even more protestors at this year's event.
Although "March for Jesus" organizers said 3.5 million participants were expected for this year's evangelical event, police estimated a lower number of about one million marchers on Thursday, according to AFP.
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, according to The Associated Press.
Brazil is the world's most populous Roman Catholic country but has seen in recent years a rise in the number of evangelicals.
Just weeks ago, Roman Catholic bishops from Mexico to Chile pledged to stop the flood of believers in Latin America turning to evangelical churches. During a three-week meeting of Latin America bishops, leaders vowed to more actively hold onto church members and set out on a "continentwide, great evangelical mission" to reach the faithful, especially in slums where Protestants have been especially effective of attracting converts.
Nearly half the world's 1 billion Catholics live in Latin America, but Pentecostal churches are also experiencing explosive growth.
Thursday's event was overshadowed by the absence of the rally's founders – Estevam Hernandes Filho and Sonia Haddad Moraes Hernandes – who are currently under house arrest in Florida for allegedly smuggling $56,000 cash on a flight from Sao Paulo to Miami – including $9,000 hidden in a Bible and $10,000 in their son's backpack, according to AP. Protestors, however, shouted support for the two leaders during the march.
Seventy-four percent of Brazilians described themselves as Catholics in 2000, dropping from 84 percent in 1990, according to AP. Meanwhile, 15 percent called themselves evangelical Protestants, up from 9 percent in 1990.