Brazil’s ‘pop star priest’ gets a huge new venueSAO PAULO - Brazil’s “pop-star priest’’ is already packing in the crowds at the newly opened mammoth sanctuary that he built for his campaign to stem the exodus of faithful from the Roman Catholic Church in Latin America’s biggest nation.
Brazil still has more Catholics than any other country in the world, with about 65 percent of its 192 million people identifying themselves that way in the 2010 census. But that is down from 74 percent in 2000 and is the lowest since records began tracking religion 140 years ago.
That’s where Father Marcelo Rossi’s Mother of God sanctuary comes in. The not-yet-finished structure will seat 6,000 people and have standing room for 14,000 more, church leaders say. In addition, the grounds outside can hold 80,000 people who could watch Mass on outdoor video screens.
After the inaugural Mass on Friday attracted upward of 50,000 people, a beaming Rossi told reporters: “They couldn’t all fit in. There was a crowd that had to stand outside! That’s a sign we’re on the right path, and it’s this sanctuary.’’
It’s a fitting stage for Rossi, a Latin Grammy-nominated singer who is known for tossing buckets of holy water on worshippers and performing rollicking Christian songs backed by a blasting live band during Mass.
The church sits on 323,000 square feet of land. Church officials declined to confirm how big the actual building is, though local reports put it at 91,500 square feet. That would make it one of the world’s 10 biggest churches. A cross soaring 138 feet into the air is the focal point.
The Mother of God sanctuary is anything but traditional. Designed by noted Brazilian architect Ruy Ohtake, it has a wide-open layout giving it the feel of a warehouse.
Concrete walls hold up a sloping blue roof that from the outside looks more like a basketball arena than a house of worship.