Thousands of people gathered in Central Park on Saturday to hear an inspiring message from prominent Argentinian evangelist Luis Palau and worship along with Christian artists including Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman and Mandisa.
Central Park CityFest, referred to by The New York Times as "largest evangelical Christian gathering in New York City since 2005," drew over 60,000 people of all ages and ethnic backgrounds. According to the event website, CityFest was organized in celebration of what 1,700 local churches have been doing over the last year to help meet the needs of their communities through service projects and school partnerships.
The Times notes that attendees stood for hours in grueling heat to hear the words of Rev. Palau, 80, who is also referred to as the "Latino Billy Graham." The pastor, who has preached in over 100 countries, said preaching in Central Park was a "dream come true" as he started dreaming about preaching in New York City after his mentor, the Rev. Billy Graham, held a record 16-week crusade at the old Madison Square Garden in 1957.
In his message, which was delivered in both English and Spanish, Rev. Palau reminded attendees that Jesus Christ alone is the key to freedom and addressed the poor, telling them of the riches of God's kingdom and that God loves (them) "with an everlasting love."
"[God] is for reconciliation, for forgiveness, for a joyful walk, for a holy life, for all the good things in life that you dream of," he said, encouraging people to surrender to God for eternal life.
Ingrid Ayala, a volunteer who offered to pray with attendees after Palau preached his message, told the Christian Post, "A lot of people were touched. I saw a lot of people crying in the front."
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio also appeared on stage, where he was prayed for by Palau and several local pastors.
Referring to the mayor, Mr. Palau told the crowd, "Biblically, you are the king of New York." He also spoke backstage of the significance of the mayor's presence given that many in minority communities wanted to see Mr. de Blasio there.
Mayor Bill de Blasio also addressed the gathering and joined organizers in a song.
"You couldn't help but be moved by looking at a crowd of people from around the world," de Blasio said later. "I appreciate people who participate because they care so much, and also knowing that they intend to take that spirit back to neighborhoods and help their communities and help others."
Attendees also enjoyed music from several prominent Christian artists, including Toby Mac, Mandisa, Chris Tomlin, Israel Hougton and Argentinian rock band Rescate, among others. It also featured remarks by former Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera, whose wife pastors a church in New Rochelle.
"Seeing thousands of people there today made me realize that although Jesus isn't necessarily popular, we, the Church, are very much alive and well," Rebecca Burgos, 26, told AM New York.
In concluding his message, Rev. Palau said that once he and his family return home to Portland, Oregon, he hopes that the 1,700 partner churches will "keep doing more of the same, multiplying the unity."
"This will now go on, God willing, for many years. The cooperation is growing among churches, the number of churches I think is growing," he said.