Brazil: Where God is on the pitch

When the hosts of the 2014 World Cup take on Croatia in the opening match of the tournament on June 12th, God will also be on the pitch. And whoever opens the score sheet for Brazil, it’s likely that Jesus will get the credit.

Everyone knows that football is a religion in Brazil, but religion itself finds its expression in the game, and the players’ behaviours on and off the pitch reveal much about the country’s changing religious landscape.

You will still see players making Catholic gestures such as the sign of the cross, but recent years have seen more evangelical expressions of Christianity. After their victory in the 2002 World Cup final, the whole team knelt in a huge prayer circle, with some players stripping off their shirts to show t-shirts emblazoned with the slogan “I belong to Jesus.”

Brazil has been an overwhelmingly Catholic country ever since it was colonised by the Portuguese in the 16th Century. As recently as the 1940s, 99% of Brazilians were Catholics. Today, that figure is 63%.

On the other hand, the proportion of Brazilians belonging to mainstream Protestant churches has been rising, as has the proportion adhering to Islam, Buddhism and Afro-Brazilian religions, such as Candomblé and Umbanda.



A footballer visits a shrine

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