One of Brazil's most popular pop singers, Father Marcelo Rossi of Mother of God church, has opened a massive new Roman Catholic sanctuary that can hold up to 80,000 people for Mass, hoping that he will continue the growth of the religion in the Latin America country.
"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," 45-year old Rossi said at the event in Sao Paulo, one of Brazil's biggest cities.
Although the sanctuary is not yet completed and might be several years way from being finished, Friday's event attracted up to 50,000 people. The Roman Catholic Church has been trying hard in recent times to reverse a national trend of declining membership – in a 2010 poll, 65 percent of the 192 million population identified as Catholic, almost a 10 percent drop from the 2000 census where 74 percent said that they belong to the faith.
While Mother of God is projected to only have room for 6,000 seats and a standing room area for another 14,000 people, the grounds outside have space for 80,000, although those people will have to watch Mass through outdoor video screens. Rossi, who is a Latin Grammy-nominated singer, has said that he hopes the new church will show people that the Catholic faith can start growing again in Brazil, and reach many people in search of answers in life.
"People want big spaces. They want grand places for prayer," Rossi told the Globo TV network. "One candle illuminates, 10 candles illuminate – and 100,000 candles light up so much more."
The Associates Press shared that the church occupies 323,000 square feet of land, although the parameters of the entire building have not been officially measured yet. Reports already place it among the top 10 biggest churches in the world. Designed by famous Brazilian architect Ruy Ohtake, AP describes that "concrete walls hold up a sloping blue roof that from the outside looks more like a basketball arena than a house of worship."
Rossi said the idea behind the massive church is to tackle growing indifference toward moral and religious issues, which he says are the biggest problems facing Brazil. Analysts have identified that Protestant Pentecostal congregations in the Latin American country are growing and attracting some Catholics to join their ranks, but the pop star priest insisted that the larger issues at hand is Brazilians turning away from organized religion, rather than a shift toward other churches.
Some traditional Catholics have been more reserved when it comes to Rossi's preaching style, as the priest speaks to the people not only through his sermons, but also through his many TV appearances and music albums.
"Priests aren't showmen,"Archbishop Odilo Scherer of Sao Paulo has said. "The Mass is not to be transformed into a show."
Friday's event was filled with live music, singing and joining together for worship, which attendees hope is a sign for better times to come.
"We have problems, everyone has problems," said a worshipper identified as Zuleima de Oliveira. "They don't come to an end, but I have faith, I have faith in Our Lady."