SAO PAULO, Brazil – About 3 million evangelical Protestants staged a huge rally Thursday in the heart of Brazil's biggest city, demonstrating their growing influence in the world's largest Roman Catholic country.
Crowding next to sound trucks blasting religious music, marchers wore T-shirts in the green and yellow colors of Brazil's flag advertising their annual "March for Jesus."
The hymn-singing evangelicals walked to skyscraper-lined Agenda Palest, Brazil's version of Wall Street, then gathered around a stage to hear bands play.
Sao Paulo police estimated the crowd swelled to 3 million, double last year's estimate.
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.
But the march may not be such a high-profile event next year. Sao Paulo Mayor Gilbert Cassaba announced it won't be held on Agenda Palest next year because of complaints from merchants and residents that it is too big, too loud and hurts commerce, according to the Web site of Flora de S. Paulo, Brazil's largest newspaper.
Evangelical churches like Reborn in Christ and the Universal Kingdom of God have seen their Brazilian flocks grow rapidly in recent decades, with millions in the country of more than 180 million attracted by their dynamic services and promises that divine intervention will improve their lives despite grinding poverty affecting tens of millions.
From 1991 to 2000, the number of Brazil evangelicals grew annually by 8 percent, while the number of Catholics grew by 0.3 percent.
Brazil was nearly 100 percent Roman Catholic a century ago, but the percentage dropped to 84 percent in 1995 and is 74 percent today.