São Carlos, Sunday Morning

Filed by Steve Ritter

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Located in the center of São Paulo state, in southern Brazil, São Carlos is a quiet city of an estimated 100,000 people. It’s in the middle of the country’s orange- and sugarcane-growing region, where we have been exploring Brazil’s biofuels industry. Today I woke up and looked from the hotel window to see the sun rising through a partly cloudy sky.

Any other day of the week at this time, the streets are bustling. But on Sunday morning, there’s little going on. At 7 AM, church bells are ringing in the distance, calling people to mass. Women alone or in small groups seem to be walking to church. Brazil is a world leader in many demographic categories, and the number of people who practice the Catholic faith is one of them. About 65% of the country of 188 million people is reported in various sources as being Catholic.

Pope Benedict XVI made international headlines when he visited Brazil just a couple of weeks ago to canonize the country’s first saint, Antônio de Sant’Anna Galvão, an 18th-century friar credited with curing a girl sick with hepatitis when her mother prayed for her, among other miracles. The Pope’s visit comes at a time when many Brazilians are moving away from Catholicism in favor of other religious faiths, and São Antônio is one way for the Catholic Church to help reverse that trend.

When asked about the Pope’s visit and what Catholicism means to them and their country, several of our Brazilian hosts noted they respect the religious beliefs of their fellow countrymen, but they really had not paid attention to the Pope’s visit.

Soccer, or futebol in Portuguese, is the other religion in Brazil. Soccer is the world’s most popular sport, and the Brazilian national team has been the world’s best team for decades. Brazil has won the coveted World Cup, the most watched of all sporting events, a record five times. In any bar or restaurant with a TV, there is always a match on the screen.

This morning, at 7 AM, as the women are walking to church, there’s an adult men’s soccer game set to start on a field a block away from the hotel. An hour later, the sky darkened, and rumbles of thunder sounded in the distance, but the game played on. And when lightning began over the city, and a gentle rain fell, the game played on.

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