AP PHOTOS: Evangelicals mass in Peru amid boom

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LIMA, Peru (AP) - Tens of thousands of evangelical Christians from across Peru converged on Lima this month for a nearly weeklong national congress, their leaders claiming one of Latin America's highest growth rates.

At the congress at San Marcos stadium in Lima, preachers led thousands of believers in singing Psalms and begging forgiveness for their sins. There was shouting, weeping, rapture. Pastors invoked Scripture to denounce homosexuality because it does not lead to reproduction. They also speak against abortion.

Evangelicals have seen the most growth in Lima's teeming working class districts but more and more converts are coming from Peru's highlands thanks to proselytizing radio stations emerging in recent years in the region, said Rev. Juan Carlos Perez, a local leader of the Movimiento Misionero Mundial church.

He says the church happily accepts highlanders who continue to embrace indigenous rituals considered pagan by many.

"The evangelical doesn't try to eliminate. He tries to understand," Perez said. That includes entering prisons and rough-and-tumble Lima districts to actively recruit repentant ex-criminals.

Peru and its capital remain bastions of Roman Catholicism. About three in four Peruvians identify themselves as Catholics. But evangelicals are on the rise, jumping from 5.2 percent of the population in 1981 to 12.5 percent in 2007, the last year for which government census figures are available.

Perez claims evangelicals now account for at least 20 percent of Peru's 30 million people, which would give it one of Latin America's highest growth rates.

Perez's movement, which he said operates in 60 countries, does not tolerate abortion or same-sex marriage.

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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