Holy spirit superstar

Holy spirit superstar

Pentecostal churches proselytize at the World Cup © KNA

Holy spirit superstar

Pentecostal churches proselytize at the World Cup © KNA

The churches of the Pentecostal movement are on a growth course in Brazil. In the meantime, they are seriously competing not only with the Catholic Church, but also with established TV stations and political parties. They use the World Cup for missionary work.

Yellow and green. Brazil's national colors are omnipresent in these World Cup days. "Brasil, Brasil!"a group wearing green and yellow jerseys chants in front of the Sao Paulo stadium. But in their hands they are not holding a can of beer, but a stack of small pieces of paper. After their battle cry, they disperse to distribute their papers.

They are followers of the "Baptist Church New Life" – one of many churches of the Pentecostal movement that are on a growth course in Brazil. "We want to tell people that the love of God is the most important thing," says Pastor Jaime Nascimento. Of course, he is also a soccer fan – and he wishes everyone a lot of fun and an exciting game, the 48-year-old said.

For the Pentecostal movement, which began in the early 20. The story of the first soccer game, which originated in the U.S. in the late nineteenth century, centers on the vivid experience of the miracles of the Holy Spirit. Since the 1980s, it has been spreading rapidly in Latin America, especially in Brazil. Whereas in the 1980 census about three percent of Brazilians professed to be Pentecostal, by 2010 this figure had risen to 13 percent, or more than 25 million Brazilians.

High number of unreported cases

Sociologist Ricardo Mariano of the University of Sao Paulo estimates that the number is actually far higher than that. So at last count, nine million Brazilians said they belonged to a Protestant church – without specification. Mariano explains the enormous growth of Pentecostal churches with the massive missionary work of their members. It is typical for them to use big events like the World Cup for evangelization.

A few meters from the Pentecostal Baptists at the Sao Paulo stadium stand representatives of the "Universal Church of the Kingdom of God," which has its own TV station and radio programs and is currently building a large temple in Sao Paulo at a cost of 200 million euros. A few meters further on, missionaries of the "Assembleia de Deus" (Assembly of God) are active, with more than twelve million members the largest Pentecostal church in the country. They hold up colorful banners reading "Jesus saves" and draw attention to themselves with loud chants and guitars.

Their leaflets are written not only in Portuguese, but also in English and Spanish. Those who feel like having a longer conversation are invited by the Pentecostals to their church on the next street corner. From the outside, the church looks more like a garage. Inside, the room is tiled white. Sandwiches and drinks are available on some tables.

"We want to communicate the love of God to the people. No more, no less," says Baptist Isaias Soares. The now 47-year-old joined the free church six years ago. Back then, he was a drug addict, but now, thanks to the church's support, he is clean and able to work as a civil servant again: "God has changed my life," he says. Out of gratitude, he now sacrifices his free time: occasionally he helps out at a food distribution for the homeless; on weekends he does missionary work and distributes flyers in the city center. "I leave the rest to the Holy Spirit."

Holy Spirit Superstar

In the Pentecostal churches, the work of the Spirit is attributed almost magical powers. They hold out the prospect of healing diseases, a happy life in this world and salvation in the next. "They promise to solve the problems that people face every day," says Professor Mariano. Therefore, he said, the influx is greatest in the poor neighborhoods of large cities, where crime, poverty and family conflicts determine life. "The churches are the only places that offer security."

Cancer patients, for example, are then "treated" in the church services. Mariano knows from experience: in the end, only those who have experienced their personal miracle give testimony. Those converted in this way are usually happy to hand over a tenth of their salary to the churches.

Baptist flyers outside the stadium read, "Do you know how to win the biggest title of your life at the World Cup?"The answer is given by a verse from the Letter to the Romans: 'If you confess with your mouth: "Jesus is Lord' (…), this is how you will be saved."

Divided reactions

Meanwhile, about 15 percent of all deputies in the Brazilian parliament are delegated by Pentecostal churches. They oppose, for example, legal equality for homosexual couples or influence from feminist groups. "They try to impose their strict moral codes on society," Mariano said, summing up with the sober eye of the sociologist, "They accept the rules of the democratic game."

Pentecostals meet with mixed response among soccer fans. Many decline with thanks. But Diane Barreira of the "Assembleia de Deus" says that there are always interested people who stop for a moment and engage in conversation. Before the opening match, she had a long conversation with an English woman, the 24-year-old recalls. "And I was surprised when a few days later she came to our service."

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