Adriano Moraes was known as the “Cowboy of God” in Brazil.

One look at his website (adrianomoraes.com) and it’s easy to see why. The tough-as-nails three-time world champion of the Professional Bull Riders tour posts an Internet presence that is as Catholic as it is cowboy. Moraes posts regular spiritual reflections, an online Rosary, information about the missionary community to which he belongs (Canção Nova) and much more.

The 36-year-old claimed an unprecedented third world title at the $3.5-million PBR World Finals, concluded Nov. 5 after two consecutive weekends of competition in Las Vegas. Moraes entered the final day fourth in the points standings but overcame the deficit — and back spasms — on his final two rides to win the title and its accompanying $1-million bonus. That boosted his career earnings to a PBR record $3.37 million

Moraes spoke from his home on a ranch in Tyler, Texas, with Register correspondent Anthony Flott prior to the PBR finals.

Tell me where you’re from and a bit about your family.

I am from a city that’s called Cachoeira Paulista in Sao Paulo State, Brazil. My father was a ranch manager, and my mom a housewife. We are a family of four boys and one girl, born and raised at the ranch in Brazil.

What career aspirations did you have?

Well, I just wanted to be like my dad — a ranch manager. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to do it or not, because in order to finish your education in Brazil, it’s very hard. My future was uncertain.

Then along came bull riding?

Yep. But bull riding just happened. I never planned on being a bull rider. I started riding and thinking about becoming a professional when I was maybe 15 or 16, and I never made up my mind until January of ’88. I wasn’t interested in going to school any more.

When did you first ride a bull, and what do you recall from that experience?

I think that was back in ’85 when I was 15. I got on a pretty good-sized bull, and even though I fell off, I rode it seven seconds, instead of eight, and did pretty good.

What made you so good at it?

Balance, athleticism and passion. I really liked it right away, and I put effort in it and thought about it a lot and I tried to do it right.

When did you first come to the United States?

The first time was in December or November of ’92 to watch the national finals rodeo and try to go to some events, just for a tryout. I did it, and I was pretty happy. I went back home because at the time it was not worth it, living here in the United States, because I was making more money in Brazil and saving my money. That’s when PBR was created, and then things changed so much that now you cannot be in Brazil and make as much money as you can with PBR. Now, here is the place to be.

Describe what the eight seconds are like on top of 1,800 pounds of angry bull.

It just depends on how well you’re riding at the time. When you’re riding extremely well, it’s so easy and so fast. But when you’re not riding as well, it’s not as easy and not as fast. Sometimes it can be eternal hell if you don’t have control.

Do you really have control?

We do. When you’re riding well you know exactly what’s going on and you have complete control of the situation. That’s when it’s easy and fun. When you’re not having total control, it’s not as easy and not as fun.

How many injuries have you had?

I think I’ve broken at least 21 bones. Plus torn muscles, torn ligaments and bruises that we don’t count. Bruises that would put a football player out of the game for a month. That’s the raw reality. We get on the bull the following day or we have no salary. If you don’t compete, you don’t get paid. That’s why they say it’s the toughest sport on dirt.

Who’s the hardest bull to ride and why?

I think the toughest bull right now is Big Bucks. He’s the reigning bull of the year. I’m sure he’s going to win again this year. What makes him so tough is he’s so strong and he kicks upside down. He’s vertical, and he spins very fast either way, right or left. He’s not very big. He might be 1,400 pounds or 1,500 pounds. It’s not much, but he’s very strong for his size. He’s the whole package.

What about before you ride. Do you say a prayer?

Yes, I say a prayer many times a day. As a Catholic, I’m supposed to do that. I have my daily devotions. I have my Bible study. My Rosary I pray every day. And when I’m home or on the road I try to go to church every day. I try to do adoration every day.

Those things, my spiritual life, comes before anything. And that’s what guides me through life, if I’m going bull riding or just through a day of work at the ranch. My spiritual walk is exactly the same. You have to rely on something that gives you strength to overcome fear, and I rely on my relationship with God to make me strong, to do anything I set my mind to doing. He is my source of strength and balance.

Do you ever get complaints about animal cruelty, and if so, how do you address those concerns?

No. I invite everyone that does not know my industry to see how the bulls are cared for and how they’re trained and prepared. To come to any of our ranches … to see the reality of it. As Christians, we believe that the animals are there to serve. We are here to protect all the creatures, but the creatures are created to serve man.

I hope this doesn’t sound too stupid, but when you’re on top of that bull are you ... afraid?

Not on top of the bull. Before. Before, I’m scared. Scared not of dying, but scared of getting hurt. Especially scared of defeat. That’s what scares me the most.

You’re getting your own bronze statue, which will stand at the entrance to the new PBR World Headquarters in Pueblo, Colo. Pretty cool, but is it hard to keep your head about you?

Well, no, because my life is not that easy. It doesn’t matter how much more things I get, statues or stamps or those dolls and play cards, whatever with my face and my name on it. It makes my life even harder because more and more people pay attention to me and my responsibility only grows. Sometimes I think when I’m tired, I wish that none of those things ever happened. When I’m very exhausted. But … I know why all those things happened and all those problems are coming up is because I have a mission in life ... to be a witness of the Lord Jesus Christ, my Savior, and my Church. As a Catholic.

Has your faith always been so deep and pronounced?

No. It came when I met my wife (Flavia). I was baptized and confirmed, but I never was evangelized. That’s the problem of most Catholics, they aren’t evangelized. I met my wife when I was 20, and she was born and raised in the Catholic faith, and she was the one who evangelized me. That’s when I got to know really what the Church is and what a relationship with God is all about. That’s when I think I became a little more spiritual.

Can you summarize for me the Canção Nova Community and its mission?

It’s “New Song,” its translation in English. A new song to the Lord. A new song to the people. The mission is to evangelize Catholics throughout the world, especially in Brazil, that are baptized but are not evangelized. We evangelize through the media. All kinds — magazines, newspapers, radio, TV, the Internet — and by doing retreats. And I am going preaching all over the world and taking the good news of salvation to the people.

To when do its roots date and who founded it?

Father Jonas Abib. He’s a Salesian priest. From Brazil. He founded the community, I think, 25 years ago.

And it has charismatic roots?

It’s a charismatic group.

How would you describe the faith life of most of the riders on the tour?

Well, we do have faith. Everybody. But sometimes the faith is not the right stuff. Sometimes the faith is on alcohol, on other stuff, on their own strength, but we are people of faith. For sure we believe in some things, but maybe half of them are Christians and have the faith in the right direction. But that’s why I say it is so easy to evangelize to rodeo people because, as I said, they are people of faith. You just need to direct the faith to the right direction, which is Jesus Christ.

What percent would you estimate are Catholic?

I think 90% of all the Brazilians are Catholics. And of the Americans, maybe 10% might be Catholics, or even less than that. So it’s not many Catholics. Americans might be, of the riders, maybe three or four only.

How often are you engaged in faith discussions with other riders?

Not very often at all. There’s a group that’s called PBRO: Professional Bull Riders Outreach, a nondenominational group of Christians that are in charge of doing so. So I don’t approach the guys directly. Everything I do is indirect. I try to evangelize through who I am and what I do and how I do things, which is the hardest way, I guess, but that’s the only way for me.

While you are on tour, when is your faith life most tested?

Well, I’m tested all the time. When I’m riding I need to do well, and when I do well, then it’s my opportunity to witness why I’m a success.

And so my life is always about being tested. How well I am and how close I am to my Lord and my Church. So I have  plenty of time to witness and lots of opportunities to be tested every day.

Anthony Flott writes

from Papillion, Nebraska.