The Olympic torch reached Rio de Janeiro's Maracana Stadium for the grand opening ceremony of the 2016 games after being blessed by Rio Cardinal Orani Tempesta at the city's landmark and heavily guarded Christ the Redeemer statue after the city's mayor personally requested for it.
"This is the moment for us to surpass our difficulties and work together as a team, making our country and our world safer, less unequal, and putting love in the hearts of all," the cardinal said after he blessed the Olympic flame held by Brazil's former Olympic volleyball player, Maria Isabel Barroso Salgado, Friday, according to Catholic News Agency.
Although being held in the predominantly Catholic country, taking the torch to the statue had not been scheduled by the Games' organizers. It was done as requested by Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes, who is a Catholic, Father Omar Raposo, rector at the Christ the Redeemer Sanctuary at the base of the statue, was quoted as saying.
"The Christ, with his open arms, welcomes and protects all the peoples of the world, but Brazilians hope that the luck transmitted by the statue will remain with our Brazilian athletes," Raposo said.
The 24-foot tall statue of Jesus with arms stretching 91 feet across is being guarded by 30 armed forces personnel due to concerns of possible terrorist attacks. "The sanctuary is the gateway for visitors coming to Rio. This is an opportunity to make sure tourists see the Christ (statue) in a safe environment," Raposo said. The security will remain at the statue until the end of September.
The statue, which can be seen from almost anywhere in Rio de Janeiro, is one of the main landmarks of Brazil.
"Christ the Redeemer is more than a Catholic monument that represents our people. When you think about Brazil, I'm going to visit Brazil, that's the first image," WTHR quoted Brazilian tour guide Marcella Granatiere as saying. "The Corcovado mountain is 2,004 feet above the sea level. It's not the highest mountain in the city but it's the best location. When you see the city from Corcovado, you don't need a paper map anymore. You have the city in your mind. The left hand side of the Christ is pointing to the north part of the town. Christ looks toward Sugarloaf mountain. That's where our town starts."
The statue, two-thirds the height of the Statue of Liberty's height from base to torch, was created by Polish-French sculptor Paul Landowski and built by the Brazilian engineer Heitor da Silva Costa, in collaboration with the French engineer Albert Caquot. The face was created by the Romanian artist Gheorghe Leonida.
"If you notice, the Christ the Redeemer head is a little bit down," Granatiere added. "He's looking at our city and looking at our people and blessing our town. When I'm up here, I bring my friends and tourists. I feel very pleased to have the opportunity to come up here so often. There are many people living in Rio de Janeiro who have never come up here."