A large New York crowd waits patiently for hours hoping to spend a few moments with a very special woman who's traveled thousands of miles from her native India, delivering a powerful message of enduring faith and hope.
These devotees are united in the belief that Mata Amritanandamayi is a saintly wonder. She draws millions of people around the world for spiritual relief that people say comes from her gentle touch. Affectionately called "Amachi" or "Amma," meaning mother, she reaches out to one and all with a simplest of gestures — a meaningful embrace. Her welcome is warm, her smile is sparkling and her white sari glows and offers up a hug, as if each person in her arms were the only person in the room. Amachi is known as the "hugging saint" by those who have experienced what they call the magic of her unconditional love for humanity.
It's estimated that on this summer day, at least 6,000 people have gathered to receive hugs as a "darshan," the Sanskrit word meaning a session or audience in the presence of a saint. It is indeed fascinating to watch the hundreds of people — Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus — kneel as they get closer to Amachi and her magnetic hugs. She embraces all faiths and describes herself as a servant of god.
Her outreach has a profound effect on those who receive her hugs. They come to heal and open up their hearts to a woman who has dedicated her life to spreading infinite compassion and motherly love throughout the world.
I asked many people to describe their feelings after receiving Amachi's hugs. Many people told me they were filled with peace and felt what they described as divine love. I saw a number of people wiping away tears of joy after their encounter with Amachi. This humble woman who speaks no English is teaching a universal lesson that transcends the spoken word — that the need for love is the common thread shared by all and is fundamental for the human spirit to thrive.
Her compassion knows no bounds. Born in a poor fishing village, Amachi was treated harshly as a child by her family for being different. When she was young, she was indeed unique. At six months she could walk and talk, and by the age of three she was constantly singing spiritual hymns and praising God. When she turned nine-years-old, she began to question the suffering she witnessed among the very poor and elderly. She immediately embarked on missions of kindness, often sharing her food with those who had none. She spent time with the homeless and offered up all of her worldly possessions so that she could give comfort and encouragement to those less fortunate. Soon, word spread that this woman had an unusual effect on people who felt uplifted by her presence. By the age of 21, she refused marriage and began her public philanthropic ministries.
Though she doesn't proclaim that she is a magnate for miracles, I spoke with a number of people at this gathering who didn't hesitate to say that they have seen and know people who had suffered from severe illnesses or disease and miraculously were healed after a hug from Amachi. Many people in this country and millions in India believe that Amachi can manifest miracles through the power of her healing touch. As a result, I met individuals with conditions, like paralysis, who had traveled hundreds of miles, just to receive her blessings with the hope that they too would be healed. That kind of faith is so inspiring.
In India she is known as the "Saint of Compassion" and amazingly often sits for 16 hours or more embracing people without interruption or pause for food and water. Similar scenes are being played out here in this country as she continues her U.S. hugging tour.
Her philanthropic efforts have raised millions for the poor. In India, she's established a number of orphanages, clinics, schools and an 800-bed hospital.
When Hurricane Katrina hit she raised more than a million dollars for the people of New Orleans and Mississippi. Her efforts are being recognized by the world stage. She's served as the President of the Parliament of World Religions, and she's addressed the U.N. several times calling on the world body to end poverty and disease.
When it came time for my interview, we talked via a translator and she expressed her deep concern for those less fortunate and troubled souls. As we chatted, she never missed a beat and continued hugging people in the long line. In our conversation, she told me that she believes compassion to the poor is our duty to God.
She also adds that when she offers a hug it represents the connection between the mother and child — the "umbilical cord of love." She says it's the essential bond that cannot be broken.
With that, Amachi hugged me and gave me her blessings in her own native Indian language. Her warm embrace was very special and as she looked at me with joy, I could feel what others have felt and reflected upon, that in this age of cynicism and doubt, there is one woman who continues to set an inspiring example offering this simple but potent message: with unconditional love anything's possible.
Uma Pemmaraju rejoined FNC in 2003 as a news update anchor and substitute host for various programs.
Uma Pemmaraju currently serves as anchor for FOX News Channel's (FNC) America's News Headquarters (Saturdays 12-1PM/ET). She joined the network in 1996 and is based in New York. Click here for more information on Uma Pemmaraju.