SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - With no sign of Judgment Day arriving on Saturday as forecast by an 89 year-old California evangelical broadcaster, followers were faced with trying to make sense of his failed pronouncement.
Harold Camping, the former civil engineer who heads the
Family Radio Network of Christian stations, had been unwavering in his message that believers would be swept to heaven on May 21.
His Oakland, California-based network broadcasts over 66 U.S. stations and through international affiliates. With the help of supporters it posted at least 2,000 billboards around the United States warning of the Judgment Day.
In New York, retired transportation agency worker Robert Fitzpatrick was inspired by Camping’s message to spend over $140,000 of his savings on subway posters and outdoor advertisements warning of the May 21 Judgment Day.
As he stood in Times Square in New York surrounded by onlookers, Fitzpatrick, 60, carried a Bible and handed out leaflets as he waited for Judgment Day to begin.
By his own reading of Bible, which was slightly different than Camping’s, Fitzgerald expected the great worldwide event to begin at 6 p.m. Eastern Time.
When the hour came and went, he said: “I do not understand why ...,” as his speech broke off and he looked at his watch.
“I do not understand why nothing has happened.”
Camping, who previously made a failed prediction Jesus Christ would return to Earth in 1994, had said doomsday would begin at 6 p.m. in the various time zones around the globe.
That meant it would begin in Asia and Oceania, but with midnight local time having come and gone in those areas, taking them well into May 22, and no indication of an apocalypse, Camping seemed to have gone silent.
During the day, his Family Radio played recorded church music, devotionals and life advice unrelated to Judgment Day.
The headquarters of his network was shuttered on Friday and Saturday, with a sign in the door that read “This Office is Closed. Sorry we missed you!”
Camping, whose deep sonorous voice is frequently heard on his radio network expounding the Bible, could not be reached for comment.
The shades were drawn and no one answered the door at his house in Alameda, California.
Sheila Doan, 65, who has lived next door to Camping since 1971, said he is a good neighbor and she was concerned about Camping and his wife because of the attention his pronouncement has received.
“I’m concerned for them, that somebody would possibly do something stupid, you just don’t know in this world what’s going to happen,” she said.
Tom Evans, a spokesman for Camping, said earlier this week that at least several tens of thousands of people listen to Family Radio’s message.
The network is heard in more than 30 languages through international affiliates, according to Family Radio.
In recent weeks, dozens of Camping’s followers had crossed the United States in recreational vehicles emblazoned with the May 21 warning. Volunteers also handed out pamphlets as far away as the Philippines, telling people God had left clear signs the world was coming to an end.
In Camping’s description of Judgment Day, the Earth would be wrenched in a great earthquake and many inhabitants would perish in the coming months, until the planet’s total destruction on October 21.
On Saturday, some atheists in different parts of the country held celebrations and get-togethers to mark the failure of Camping’s May 21 prediction to come true.
In Oakland, the same city where Camping’s network is based, over 200 people gathered at an atheist convention where speakers joked about the Judgment Day pronouncement and a vendor sold jewelry with the words “Good without God.”
Cara Lee Hickey, 32, a Christian turned atheist, said Camping’s prediction got people talking.
“I’ve heard a lot of name-calling, but most of it is from other Christians calling him a false prophet,” she said.
Additional reporting by Erik Tavcar, Jonathan Allen and Noel Randewich; Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Jerry Norton