New Beatles Book More Popular Than the Bible (for Purpose of This Headline Only)

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Byline: Burt Constable

The faithful flock of 8,000 souls expected to pack the Hyatt Regency O'Hare in Rosemont this weekend brings an undying devotion and disposable income that most churches would envy.

But instead of focusing on the words of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, this congregation comes together to celebrate the music of John, Paul, George and Ringo.

The Fest for Beatles Fans 2006, which kicked off last night and continues through Sunday, can be a religious experience for some fans. (See www.thefestforbeatlesfans.com for details.)

The fest's longtime emcee, WXRT 93.1-FM radio personality Terri Hemmert, says she has talked with her priest about how her annual worship "at the altar of the Beatles" will force her to skip Sunday's Mass.

"I get there 51 weeks a year," quips Hemmert, who will miss her normal gig as an usher at her Roman Catholic church.

"Because there was a spiritual dimension to the Beatles, it resonates deeper into people's lives," says legendary rock author Steve Turner, who is at the fest to speak about his new book, "The Gospel According to the Beatles."

"The devotion that the Beatles still experience is unmatched."

What a long and winding road since that day 40 years ago when a young John Lennon said of the Beatles: "We're more popular than Jesus now."

Friday marked the 40th anniversary of Lennon's Chicago news conference in which he explained that his comments were "never meant to be a lousy anti-religion thing," Hemmert recalls.

Like many Americans who came of age in the 1960s, Lennon, a former Anglican choirboy, and the rest of the Beatles turned away from the Christian churches of their youth as teens but ended up as adults on quests for spiritual awareness, Turner says.

"Their career perfectly spanned my teenage years," says Turner, now 56. He turned 13 as the Beatles were lighthearted "Mop Tops" singing, "I Want to Hold Your Hand." By the time Turner was an adult, the Beatles had smoked pot and dropped acid, meditated and medicated, completed a "Magical Mystery Tour," grown up, broken up and were ready to "Let It Be."

That journey is what separates this weekend's fest from most "oldies" shows.

"It would have been (mere) nostalgia if they hadn't gone through that," says Hemmert, 58, who marks her passage into adulthood via Beatles albums. …