What does it say about the state of Brazilian Catholicism when more and more people in the world's largest Catholic country turn to Evangelicalism every day?
I asked myself this same question while living in Rio, where there is now an Evangelical church on nearly every block in the poorer parts of the city, and plentiful in the wealthier parts. On the commuter trains and in the streets, you'll find wandering preachers, and people handing out fliers for different churches, promising salvation (and requesting donations). Hordes of young people dressed in matching tee-shirts walk together from activities to the church on Sundays.
The Washington Post recently published a story about evangelical ministers working in the Rio favelas to try to cut down on violence, as well as a bit about the evangelical movement in Brazil. I'd read about this phenomenon a year ago, including a minister who runs a commune for new converts, something of a religious rehab for former convicts and narcos.
For the most part, I was skeptical. I'm suspicious of any and all fundamentalists, regardless of religion. I was wary of the rules of attire and lifestyle (long skirts and flat shoes for women; no drinking or partying). I understood the harsh critique of the sect in Linha de Passe. I was uncomfortable with the idea of the church taking money mostly from people with barely any (with the exception of famous evangelicos like Kaka). I was horrified to read about the arrest of the founders of the Renascer church. I was constantly harassed by those rove preachers, and it grated on my nerves.
But then, a month or so ago, there was a huge Evangelical event held near our house, and I witnessed it from the window. Dozens of buses parked for miles along the water (see below), and tens of thousands of people came.
There was loud singing, loud preaching, and many appeals for money. There were many songs about Jesus and many promises made.
But unlike other large, free events, like New Year's or beach concerts, there was peace. There was no alcohol or drugs. There was no screaming. There were no fights. There were no gunshots. There was no violence. The revelers came in in an orderly fashion in the afternoon, and by 9pm, the beach was completely empty.
I don't mean to imply that evangelicalism is the key to peace and order in Rio; the situation is too complex. But those evangelicos are certainly on to something.