Watch the two-part interview with Luis Palau above.
The Argentine evangelist Luis Palau has been called the “Latino Billy Graham.” The 80-year-old has embarked on a missionary journey spanning more than 75 countries to spread what he calls the "Good News of Jesus Christ."
More than 30 million people worldwide have gone to see him share the gospel, and millions more have heard him on the radio, but for the first time, Palau is bringing that message to New York City.
More than 60,000 faithful are expected to pack New York City’s Times Square on Friday and Central Park on Saturday for Good News in the City events. The stop came about at the request of New York’s Latino community, Palau said. For him, it’s the culmination of a long career.
Born in Argentina, Palau became a U.S. citizen in 1962 after meeting his wife at the Multnomah Biblical Seminary in Portland, Oregon, where the Luis Palau Association is now headquartered.
He began preaching in 1962 following the advice of Graham, who mentored Palau and once told him to go to spread the word of God in big cities because “they are like tall mountains – if rain falls on the mountains, it spreads to valleys.”
Palau, who used to translate for Graham at events, is now trying to spread the good news from the tallest mountain in the U.S.
“The 'Good News' covers a lot of broadband, but basically it’s centered on Jesus Christ and what it will do for the poor and for the rich, for the lonely, for the sad,” Palau said in an interview with Fox News Latino. “All the good things that God does when you give your life to Christ is quite amazing, and I want to make a lot of noise to get people to listen, to say, 'Yes, I believe this is true, and I’m going to give it a try,' and invite them to come to Christ.”
Once referred to as "crusades," Palau and his ministry have been calling these gatherings "festivals" for the past 15 years at the behest of his children. Three of Palau’s four children are involved in the ministry including his prodigy and son, Andrew, who is being featured at the New York festivals, which will also include appearances by New York Yankee great Mariano Rivera, and feature music from Christian music stars Tobymac, Mandisa, Marcos Witt and Matt Redman.
If it sounds like the goal is to reach young people and make religion fun, there's a reason for that.
“It’s never too late. You can come to Christ in the last minute,” Palau said. “But I recommend you come when you’re young.”
Palau grew up in Buenos Aires, and his father died unexpectedly at 34, when Palau was just 10 years old. It was the single most important event that drew Palau to the missionary life.
He says his father sat up on his death bed and began to sing in bed, and telling his son not to be sad because he was going to be with Jesus.
“Since I was a kid, it was fun to follow Jesus Christ in Argentina, and to me it was always sort of frightening to think that some of us, when we get old especially, there’s a tendency to be negative and to paint God as an angry god,” Palau said. “Since I was a kid, [after] my father died when I was 10, he’s taken care of me, he’s been my father, he’s given me peace and forgiveness.”
Palau is now trying to get others – especially those in one of the U.S.’s most liberal bastions – to listen to the good news. The festivals come just two weeks after the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage throughout the country, prompting protests from the religious right. He says those protests aren’t representative of the message he’s trying to spread.
“The message is: We want you to know what God is for, not what he is against,” Palau told FNL. “And what he is for is for reconciliation, for forgiveness, for a joyful walk, for a holy life, for all the good things in life that you dream of. That’s what he offers, so we proclaim that. Those extremists represent 15 people in Kansas or something.”
Overall Palau’s ministry is indicative of a growing evangelical movement: The number of Latino Catholics in the United States continues to fall, as is the case throughout Latin America, and many of them are turning to evangelical Christianity. According to the Pew Research Center, the percentage of Hispanic Catholics has dropped from 67 percent in 2010 to 55 percent in 2013, while the number of Hispanic evangelical families has climbed from 12 to 16 percent.
Palau says he’s talked to Catholic leaders, including Pope Francis, about why people are leaving the Catholic Church. First, Palau said, it's because the authority for evangelicals stems from the Bible, rather than the Church.
“Second, there’s a lot of singing and happiness among evangelical Christians, because they are very cheerful about their relationship with the Lord," Palau said. But most important, he believes is “the assurance of eternal life, and the assurance of heaven when you die.”
The pope is coming to New York City himself in September, and Palau is praying that Francis can bring young people back to the Catholic Church by emphasizing the spiritual life.
“We want people to enjoy life and live it,” Palau said of evangelicals. “That’s why we call it 'Good News.'”