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Religion and tourism join hands in New York, says National Geographic

Hillsong services in Manhattan are increasingly attended by tourists, joining other iconic religious tourist stops such as gospel masses in Harlem, St. Patrick’s and St. John the Divine and walks through the neighborhoods of Orthodox Jews .

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Hillsong NYC. Photo: National Geographic

Hillsong NYC. Photo: National Geographic

The big screen is showing a film with a countdown. When it reaches zero, the chords of an electric guitar emerge with force while the singer sings "Holy is the name of Jesus ..." The rock show and the faith have begun.

In each of the six services offered every Sunday, the congregation of Hillsong New York completely fills the Manhattan Center [now meeting in the Hammerstein Ballroom in Manhattan and The Wellmont Theater in Montclair, New Jersey] , very close to the renowned Macy's. In total, more than 5,000 flock there every weekend, the vast majority being young people under 30 years. …

Hillsong, a Pentecostal church born in Australia more than three decades ago, now dazzles every week, with its modern, urban aesthetic, more than 100,000 faithful in Sydney, Los Angeles, Kiev, London, Paris, Stockholm, Copenhagen, New York and Barcelona.


This weekend is "Closer," Hillsong Conference USA in Los Angeles


The brand label is one of the most important ones of Christianity in the world, selling 16 million albums in over 60 different languages. And in April the church released the documentary "Let Hope Arise," shot partly with home videos from their followers performing the song "Mighty To Save.”



Hillsong services in Manhattan are increasingly attended by tourists visiting the city of skyscrapers, joining other iconic religious tourist stops such as gospel masses in Harlem, the cathedrals of St. Patrick and St. John the Divine and walks through the neighborhoods of Orthodox Jews .

"The streets are a clear example of the mix of nationalities, cultures and religions, living with sometimes astonishing harmony. Religion is very visible in New York and is always treated with great respect and democracy," said the  Catalan Marc Tió, a guide and head of the tourism agency Cap Nova York.

His clients especially request routes with gospel services, he says. And he points out that behind the cliché of a group of African Americans dressed in fuchsia robes, singing “Oh Happy Day,” the churches fulfill a mission in their neighborhoods by providing services to the community and helping the needy. “This draws a lot of attention from the tourists, who come to realize that the church is less a show and more a place of peace and spiritual comfort,” he says.

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And despite its fame as being unholy and irreligious city, statistics show that New York has a concentration of religious people that exceeds that almost anywhere else in the U.S. (even compared to the so-called the "Bible Belt"). New York City offers the most intense religious mosaic found in the country. …

This religious change in New York in recent years is considered by many as a spiritual revolution, and is being recorded by A Journey through NYC religions, an international non-profit organization created in 2010. Their goal: to document the religion in the city, from any faith, through photographs, videos and interviews with religious leaders. It now has 20 million visitors to its website.

For its director, Tony Carnes, the tourists' growing interest in religious subjects feeds on the increasing attention in the city to religious architecture, the preachers, the historical origins of different religions and cultural activities related to faith. An example is the success of the White Light Festival at Lincoln Center, showing the ability of music to "illuminate the many dimensions of our inner lives," and held every October and November since 2010.


Spiritual in NYC


Another event somewhere between music and religion is the Winter Solstice. For 35 years, starring jazz musician Paul Winter, this show of spiritual world music has been held in New York’s imposing Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, one of the largest churches in the world and located a few meters from Columbia University .

It is “a mystical experience that begins a time of celebrations, regardless of whether it is Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or other holidays,” said Ximena Ojeda, director of New York Latin Culture. “The celebration of the Winter Solstice is one of the oldest celebrations of humanity and in New York, every December, people still meet to seek shelter from which to our ancestors it was the darkest night of the year,” he explains.

In December, the Empire State Building in New York will light up with the blue and white colors of the Jewish holiday of Chanukah with  its antenna turning a golden color to symbolize a candle . On Christmas Eve and afterwards, the lighting of the building will be turned to the red and green of the Christian Christmas. In a city accustomed to cultural and religious heterogeneity, the symbol of the city shows the harmony between different faiths in New York City.


For more of the story read National Geographic en Spanish, Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH. [1505150600;150115]

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National Geographic en Espanol

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