Skip to main content

Singing priests revive Catholic Church in Brazil

By Shasta Darlington, CNN
updated 10:56 AM EDT, Mon July 22, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Father Marcelo Rossi at forefront of Brazil's Charismatic Catholics movement
  • He will provide entertainment at Pope's visit to World Youth Day
  • His unorthodox masses aimed at bringing back old followers and attracting new ones
  • In 2010 census, 65 percent of Brazilians were Catholic. In 1970 it was 92 percent

Sao Paulo, Brazil (CNN) -- It looks like an airport hangar and it sounds like a rock concert. Thousands have packed into a megachurch on the periphery of Sao Paulo for one of Father Marcelo Rossi's Thursday night masses.

The Roman Catholic priest belts out some of his hit songs before walking up to the altar. The parishioners join in, waving their arms in the air.

"Lord, I know you love me," sings a young woman in braces.

Father Marcelo, 46, was a personal trainer before he joined the clergy.

Now he is at the forefront of a Brazilian movement known as the Charismatic Catholic Renovation trying to invigorate the Church and lure new and old followers back to the fold.

They use music and sermons aimed at trying to secure success on Earth as well as in the after-life, methods more often associated with Latin America's flourishing Pentecostal Evangelical churches.

Pope's first trip shuns pageantry
Pope Francis urges rich to help the poor

The differences between mass at Father Marcelo's Mother of God Sanctuary and a traditional Catholic church are striking.

The warehouse-like structure was built in a working class neighborhood on the outskirts of the city and many of the thousands of parishioners are young.

Even Sao Paulo's Se Cathedral struggles to attract more than 100 parishioners to its Sunday masses.

Brazil is the country with the world's largest number of Roman Catholics.

But lately the Catholic Church is scrambling to hang on to them while the numbers of Protestant Evangelicals climb.

In the 2010 census, just 65 percent of Brazil's 191 million people said they were Catholic, down from 92 percent in 1970. Young, working class Brazilians have been some of the most fervent converts.

Ahead of Pope Francis' visit, the Vatican took note of Father Marcelo's slightly unorthodox, but successful, masses.

He and other singing priests from the Charismatic Renovation will provide the entertainment for the millions of young people converging on Rio de Janeiro for World Youth Day.

The faithful at Father Marcelo's Thursday mass said he is the man to get people fired up.

"How does he do it?" says Maria, a lifelong Catholic. "The secret is in looking for energy, happiness, strength."

Towards the end of the service, lights are dimmed, candles are lit and the crowds open a pathway for Father Marcelo to pass.

Many break down into tears when they see him. Others hold up their official employment cards to be blessed.

One young woman wipes away tears as she leaves at the end of mass.

"I came here to give thanks because my prayer was answered," she says. "I found a job. I came straight here when I got off work."

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:59 AM EDT, Mon June 23, 2014
Using his strongest language to date, Pope Francis told Italian Mafia members that they are excommunicated from the Catholic Church.
updated 6:08 PM EDT, Thu September 11, 2014
"Drug addiction is an evil, and with evil there can be no yielding or compromise," Pope Francis said.
updated 12:45 PM EDT, Fri June 20, 2014
No topic has been off limits for Pope Francis so far.
updated 5:33 PM EDT, Sat June 14, 2014
Pope Francis prefers not to use a bulletproof Popemobile because it is a glass "sardine can" that walls him off from people.
updated 12:58 AM EDT, Mon June 9, 2014
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli President Shimon Peres committed themselves to the quest for peace with Pope Francis.
updated 2:46 PM EDT, Fri May 23, 2014
As the Holy Land prepares for a papal visit, Ivan Watson speaks to the man preparing to honor the pontiff with his food.
updated 9:07 AM EDT, Fri April 25, 2014
Three of the best-loved leaders in the history of the Roman Catholic church will be united this weekend.
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Fri April 25, 2014
Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II are to be made into saints this weekend in an unprecedented double papal canonization.
updated 8:37 AM EDT, Sun April 27, 2014
October 1962: Pope John XXIII (1881 - 1963) receives an enthusiastic welcome from the crowds at Loreto, during a pilgrimage to pray at the shrines of Loreto and Assisi before the start of the Roman Catholic Ecumenical Council.
Here are five things you need to know about the much-loved "Good Pope."
updated 12:31 PM EDT, Thu March 13, 2014
Not a jot of doctrine has changed in the year since Francis became Pope. But there's more than one way to measure his impact.
updated 10:01 AM EST, Sat February 22, 2014
Pope Francis created 19 new cardinals in a ceremony in the Vatican's St. Peter's Basilica -- the first such appointments since he was elected pontiff.
updated 9:36 AM EDT, Thu March 13, 2014
"The spring evening in which Pope Francis was elected is an apt symbol of the beginning of his papacy and the years that will follow," writes a priest.
updated 11:05 AM EST, Fri February 14, 2014
In a gesture towards Valentine's Day, Pope Francis gave his advice on how to have a happy marriage before thousands of couples.
updated 2:12 PM EST, Thu January 16, 2014
A senior Vatican official acknowledged Thursday there is "no excuse" for child sex abuse.
updated 4:10 PM EDT, Wed March 12, 2014
Take a look at Pope Francis' first year in photos with our gallery.
updated 6:43 PM EST, Thu November 7, 2013
It was the embrace that melted hearts worldwide.
updated 5:59 AM EDT, Wed April 3, 2013
On Easter Sunday, Pope Francis kisses and hugs disabled boy lifted up in the crowd.
updated 12:09 PM EDT, Thu April 11, 2013
With the new pope himself a trained scientist, could the timing could be right for a new era of cooperation between the Vatican and science?
updated 2:56 PM EDT, Sat March 16, 2013
Pope Francis is being painted as a humble and simple man, but his past is tinged with controversy.
ADVERTISEMENT