Neighbors Give Cold Shoulder to 'Hugging Saint'

New Mexico residents don't want Indian spiritual leader to have facility for gathering

By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff

Posted May 18, 2013 12:17 PM CDT

(Newser) – It sounds like a plan that should be met with warm fuzzies and hugs—literally. Devotees of India's Amma, or the "Hugging Saint," want to build a facility outside Sante Fe to house thousands of admirers for one week each summer, but neighbors are turning a cold shoulder. Though proponents say the building would be used only one week each year for Amma's annual stop in New Mexico for hugs with attendees, area residents fear fire-safety issues, noise, and heavy traffic in the remote area. They also suspect the facility will gradually be used for other events once it's up, reports the Sante Fe New Mexican.

"The good that comes out of the programs outweighs the few days of inconvenience that the neighbors suffer,” insists Steve Schmidt, who belongs to the local Amma Center. The group already has an ashram and temple on the property, but they're not big enough to handle the crowds. Tents don't cut it anymore, either, so the gathering has been held in local hotels in recent years. The idea is to build a 15,000-foot "rudimentary" facility, reports the Albuquerque Journal. A county employee says it will be months before the project is considered.

Indian spiritual leader Mata Amritanandamayi, aka Amma, arrives in Winterthur, Switzerland, to embrace thousands of people in 2010.
Indian spiritual leader Mata Amritanandamayi, aka "Amma," arrives in Winterthur, Switzerland, to embrace thousands of people in 2010.   (AP Photo/Keystone, Peter Klaunzer)
Mata Amritanandamayi of India, better known as Amma, is greeted by followers in Singapore in 2008.
Mata Amritanandamayi of India, better known as "Amma," is greeted by followers in Singapore in 2008.   (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
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