The Pope is pop

May 24, 2013

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

By Sergio Moraes

When we recently received the official agenda for Pope Francis’ July trip to Rio de Janeiro, we went straight out to photograph the sites he will visit. Brazil has 123 million Roman Catholics according to the last census, more than any other country. Since Rio is the world’s most irreverent city, according to its own residents, all Popes are received here with the slogan, “The Pope is pop.”

And with the large number of events in which he’ll participate here, that slogan will be on everyone’s minds.

Cariocas, as we natives of Rio are called, have a joke for everything, including for all the delays that we see happening in the construction of stadiums for next year’s World Cup. Our slogan of the moment is “Imagine that during the Cup”, and we use it for everything. If we run into a traffic jam, someone will inevitably say, “Imagine that during the Cup.” If a beer is too warm, if a restaurant’s service is slow, or if a day is rainy, we blurt out, “Imagine that during the Cup.”

I think the high point of the Pope’s visit will be the two days visiting Copacabana Beach, a place that every year sees two million revelers celebrating New Year.

The Rolling Stones brought 1.5 million fans to Copacabana  in 2006. Since Cariocas are natural partiers, I’m sure that during the two days of the “Pop Pope” on Copacabana Beach we’ll see millions of Catholics, non-Catholics, and tourists, many more than at any of those past events.

I can already imagine the bay full of yachts, small boats and even canoes. The sand will be occupied by pilgrims, bikini girls, beer vendors and thieves. Ironically, Cariocas will confirm that Francis is much more pop than Mick Jagger.

After the beach, the competition for the next largest will be between the masses he will hold at a ranch in Guaratiba, in the Varginha favela, and in the Aparecida Basilica near Sao Paulo. The day the agenda was announced and we made our rounds to photograph the places, a Varginha slum dweller immediately claimed that her home had been chosen for the Pope to visit, and the two chapels in the slum were disputing the right to host him.

But what was confirmed was that it will be a soccer field where Francis, who is a loyal fan of the San Lorenzo de Almagro soccer club in his native Argentina, will hold mass.

Knowing Cariocas well, I am sure that there will be no lack of people wanting to present the Pope with a jersey from one of Rio’s four biggest soccer clubs. When Pope John Paul made his first trip to Rio in 1979, a song was composed for that purpose titled “A benção, João de Deus“ (A blessing, John of God). The song became a hit, and one day in 1980 when immensely popular soccer club Fluminense was in a penalty shootout with Vasco da Gama, thousands of fans began to sing it. Fluminense turned the score around to win the match and the championship, and the entire stadium was convinced that it was the Pope who had intervened.

During the last Vatican Conclave people here wanted a Brazilian Pope. But when it was announced that the new Pope is from Argentina, Brazil’s greatest soccer foe, he suddenly became labelled the “first Latin American Pope” and nobody talks about or remembers the fact that he was born in the rival country.

It remains to be seen from July 22nd to 28th which Brazilian soccer club will be the one to win over the Pop Pope.

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