Grand start planned for new multi-million dollar Scientology church

Herald Sun, Australia/January 23, 2011

Scientologists from around the world are expected to land in Melbourne this week ahead of the opening of a new multi-million dollar Scientology church.

But the church has hosed down speculation that high-profile devotees John Travolta and Tom Cruise would be among the Scientologists in town to celebrate the opening of the Ascot Vale facility this weekend.

Reports surfaced last week predicting the Hollywood heavy hitters would be at Saturday's launch.

But Church of Scientology Australia human rights director Nigel Mannock said the pair were not coming.

"They are not scheduled to attend the Melbourne opening event," Mr Mannock said.

"Scientologists from all around Australia, New Zealand and Asia will be attending and flying in for the grand opening."

He said Melbourne's congregation of Scientologists was one of the oldest in the world with "special significance internationally."

He said the number of local devotees to the controversial religion had been growing rapidly in recent years and now exceeded 1000.

"It is our expansion in Melbourne that has necessitated our acquiring and restoring this new building," Mr Mannock said.

The church bought the Mt Alexander Rd site from the Catholic University for $7 million in 2005.

Mr Mannock said millions had since been spent refurbishing a historic convent building on the site and making additions to house a large chapel, a public auditorium, course rooms and a multimedia public information centre.

The facility, which also has libraries, a bookstore, film and seminar rooms and a conference room, has a capacity of 300 people. Mr Mannock said Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard delivered a well-known speech to hundreds of Scientologists in Melbourne during a visit in 1959.

"Scientologists around the world still listen to the recordings of his Melbourne lectures to this day, so it is very special that we are opening this church," Mr Mannock said.

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