Saturday, December 30, 2006

Brazil's Two Gods. In Rio we had the opportunity to visit two famous landmarks and symbols of Brazil. The statue of Jesus Christ the Redeemer built in 1931 which overlooks the city, and the Maracana stadium, the home of Brazilian football.

Brazil is one of the most fervently religious countries on earth with a pervasive Catholicism as well as the fruits of Protestant Revival over the last 15 years. So it seems apt that overlooking Rio is a statue of Jesus. For the record, it is a risen Jesus - up close you can see the nail marks on his hands. Certainly, up and down the country, Jesus is worshipped in various forms. On this trip I have noticed one particular church denomination has sprung up on every town and village high street we drove through. "Igreja Universal do Reino de Deus" (Universal Church of the Kingdom of God) is a Pentecostal stream with congregations everywhere. Apparently its leader is a media tycoon who owns one of Brazil's TV channels.

The other God Brazil worships is football. The Maracana (real name "Mauro Filho") stadium, built for the 1950 World Cup has a seating capacity of 120,000 and has hosted some of the best football players in the world. It is still used regularly for all major Rio based football games between the clubs Botofogo, Fluminese, Flamengo and others. Pele scored his 1000th goal inside the stadium, Zico once scored 6 goals in one match here and John Barnes dribbled past most of the Brazilian team to score the most famous goal by an Englishman in the famous stadium in 1984. The Maracana is a tourist attraction in its own right - you can place your feet in a moulding of Pele's feet, and there are displays of football history just like any museum. But, just to reinforce the point, that to Brazilians, football is itself a religion the programme for the day has these words from somebody called Mr Claudio Vieira:

"In 1999, we plunged into the task of researching the book entitled Maracana: Temple of the Brazilian gods ... there was a great deal of concern over selecting the 'gods' whose names would be enshrined on the walls of the World's Largest Stadium... Every Brazilian worships his own private gallery of idols, and most of them made their names at the Maracana Stadium".

So, there you have it folks. On Saturdays Brazilians worship football players. On Sundays they worship Jesus.

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