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THE EL SHADDAI House of Prayer rises in Amvel City Subdivision in Paraaque City. A project of founder Bro. Mike Velarde, the church has a floor area of one hectare and will be unveiled during Velardes 70th birthday Thursday. JOAN BONDOC

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The cavernous interior of the El Shaddai House of Prayer has an SRO (standing room only) capacity of 25,000 people. JOAN BONDOC


P1-B church of El Shaddai opens Thursday

By Nia Catherine Calleja
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 04:56:00 08/20/2009

Filed Under: Churches (organisations), Belief (Faith), Inquirer Politics

MANILA, Philippines?Apart from his ?real dream? of becoming president of the Philippines, El Shaddai founder Bro. Mike Velarde wants to leave his followers a cross-shaped church touted to be ?the biggest place of worship and prayers in Asia.?

With a floor area of one hectare, the El Shaddai House of Prayer stands on a portion of the Velarde-owned Amvel City in Barangay San Dionisio, Paraaque City, and will be unveiled to members on Thursday, in time for the celebration of Velarde?s 70th birthday.

El Shaddai has members now totaling seven million, according to Velarde.

Adorned by chandeliers, the air-conditioned church has a seating capacity of 15,000 people and SRO (standing room only) capacity of 25,000. That means it still will not be able to hold the attendees of its weekly prayer assemblies, estimated to number 300,000.

But some six surrounding hectares of land will be allotted to the ?overflow of people.?

Widow?s mite

Velarde said the construction cost of around P1 billion came from the ?widow?s mite? (or small contributions) and from savings accumulated since El Shaddai stopped renting stadiums and open grounds for its fellowship activities in 2001.

?Through the years, we silently saved up money,? Velarde said.

?Without the people knowing it, we spend P15-P20 million a month for the operational expenses of the ministry, such as allowance for workers, rentals, and TV and radio air time,? he said.

When the Philippine Daily Inquirer visited the church Wednesday, about a hundred people, young and old, were sprucing up the walls and floors.

Asked if she was working for free, a woman said: ?Yes, it?s my way of serving the Lord.?

Noah?s ark

Velarde said he had personally designed the church with the biblical Noah?s ark in mind.

The structure, which took almost two years to build, has four entrances leading to the altar or center stage and forming a cross.

The stage with rainbow lights on the sides appears like a huge boat surrounded by water flowing from a portion of the granite wall.

Below the stage is a flight of stairs going down to the oval-shaped ?baptism healing pool.?

?The rainbow is there just above the ark-shaped stage, which represents God?s covenant with Noah that they will no longer be disturbed by flood,? Velarde said in a statement.

(In the Bible, God had Noah build an ark to save himself, his family and animals from a great flood that killed everyone else.)

At the back of the main fellowship area, where the weekly prayer assemblies will be held starting this week, is a chapel patterned to look like a traditional European church with stained glass.

There is also an adoration chapel, as well as a confessional area (called the ?Father?s Love? chapel).

Next to the stadium is a five-story school, called the College of Divine Wisdom.

An intricate sound system that cost around P20 million encircles the structure.

P300M in rentals

Velarde said that for 15 years, El Shaddai had been holding its assemblies in such venues in Metro Manila as Luneta Park, Cultural Center of the Philippines complex, Rizal Coliseum, Reclamation Area, Araneta Coliseum and Folk Arts Theater.

He said the weekly rentals amounted to P300 million in 15 years.

El Shaddai started building the House of Prayer after the Velardes allowed it to use the family property and pay for it in installments.

The P1-billion construction cost does not include the purchase price of the 10-hectare lot.

Velarde said El Shaddai was still paying for the lot ?at a minimal cost for 20 years.?

It was Velarde?s own decision to build the structure. ?After my time, El Shaddai followers have a place to pray together,? he said.

On Thursday, around 300,000 people are expected to gather in the area. Three Masses are scheduled.

?After the Masses, we expect a continuous flow of people to visit the place,? Velarde said.

He said he was awed to see the completed church.

?I think this is proof that what I am really into is a mission. The movement has gone full-blast for evangelization. You can no longer stop the tremendous transformation of people,? he said.

Plans for 2010

But for all that, Velarde is driven by his ?real dream.?

?Aside from this, my dream really is to become the president of the Philippines. What drives me is the hope to lift [the lives] of the poor masses and to get rid of the wide gap between the masses and the rich,? he said.

Velarde said he was now in the process of consulting with leaders and members of El Shaddai core groups about his political plans for 2010.

?I have personal plans, but I can?t do it by myself because there are millions of people to be considered,? he told the Inquirer.

In his statement, he said: ?I am in the process of consulting our members nationwide and worldwide what to do in the 2010 elections. If they don?t want me to run, then let?s agree to make a choice whom we can vote for. I still have my plan.? With a report from Dona Z. Pazzibugan

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