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Saturday, 29 July, 2000, 23:57 GMT 00:57 UK
Graham too ill for conference
Participants  from developing countries
The bulk of participants were from developing countries
A conference of some 10,000 evangelical Christians from nearly 200 countries opened on Saturday in Amsterdam without its central figure - Reverend Billy Graham.

The 81-year-old American preacher was too ill to deliver an opening address, even by satellite, at the week-long international tribute to him.

Mr Graham is currently recuperating from a brain operation at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.

Mr Graham has suffered from Parkinson's disease for several years. He had previously decided not to attend the $40m Amsterdam 2000 conference but had promised to speak via satellite.

However, on Saturday, he said he lacked the strength to speak.

Developing nations

The BBC's religious affairs correspondent, Jane Little, says there was surprise and disappointment that Mr Graham did not speak.

His son Franklin, insisting that his father's health was improving, delivered the address on his behalf instead.

"We must go back and search the word of God to discover what we need to do for the extension of the Kingdom in our day," said Mr Graham, in the statement read out by his son.

Participants from different countries
Nearly 200 countries were represented at the conference
"We must go back 2,000 years to discover the future."

In another statement, Mr Graham said that some at the conference were from areas in the world "in the grip of resurgent religions or ideologies which deny the heart of the Gospel".

"Others of you face rampant secularism or materialism, with their indifference or even hostility to the Gospel," he wrote.

While most of the 300 speakers and teachers were from the West, most of the participants - selected from the 28,000 who applied to come - were from developing countries.

Some even travelled miles by foot on their journey to Amsterdam.

The huge event took five years to prepare.

Plenary sessions are being translated into 25 languages and transmitted by webcast over the internet.

Among those attending is Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey.

Mr Graham has said he hopes to speak by satellite at the closing rally on 6 August.

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