WYD Rio Must-Sees

Catholic highlights from around the Brazilian city.

World Youth Day 2013 pilgrims had the opportunity to visit many religious sites in Rio de Janeiro that highlight Catholicism’s place and roots in South America’s biggest country.

The first site no one can miss when flying into Rio: the immense statue of Christ the Redeemer, with his arms outstretched as he overlooks the city from on high.

Other highlights include churches in Rio that will "wow" pilgrims. In 1980, World Youth Day founder and soon-to-be saint John Paul II visited at least two sites.

Centuries ago, the Portuguese empire was interested in evangelizing in the New World. Those efforts, which started in the 16th century, led to Brazil having the largest Catholic population in the world.

Architect and author Duncan Stroik advises that "Americans should visit the amazing colonial and post-colonial churches of Brazil, some of which were designed by talented Portuguese architects and make one feel like one is in Europe."

"These baroque and rococo examples show the exuberance of the faith in Brazil," he points out, "and [bring] the sense that a church is an otherworldly place, where we can get a glimpse of the heavenly realm inhabited by angels and saints."

Among the great churches he recommends is Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Glória do Outeiro (Church of Our Lady of Glory). Best known simply as the "Gloria Church," it sits upon a Rio hilltop and relates to both the city’s founder and to the hope of those sailing into Guanabara Bay.

Several children in Portugal’s royal family were baptized in this church’s second edifice — today’s church — which was built from 1714 to 1739. Back then, its intertwining, two-octagonal design was inventive.

The interior of this baroque beauty is a bit simpler than the other churches, but in the great Portuguese tradition, astonishing hand-painted blue tiles line the walls with biblical scenes.

Pilgrims pray before the celestial statue of Our Lady holding the Child Jesus.

Outside, visitors get an incredible view of the city, the bay and Flamingo Park from this hilltop location. They might even notice the Portuguese limestone dome of what was once the largest building in the city: Nossa Senhora da Candelária (Our Lady of Candelária Church).

Legend has it that, in the early 17th century, those aboard a ship named Candelária promised to build a chapel in thanksgiving to Our Lady for her help saving them during a storm.

That first chapel was replaced by today’s church, which was begun in 1775 and was not completely decorated until the late 19th century. King John VI of Portugal visited the church in 1811.

As one of the most beautiful churches in Rio, it brings together baroque, neoclassical and neo-Renaissance art and architectural styles in majestic fashion.

Italian marble of many colors, like the coat of Joseph in the Old Testament, covers the walls and columns in the stunning interior, and the stained-glass windows from Germany’s master studios are exceptional. Visitors will be amazed by the six huge ceiling panels that depict the story of the church’s beginnings.

Among many Rio churches named to honor our Blessed Mother is the magnificent Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Monte do Carmo da Antiga Sé (Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel of the Ancient See).

Often known as the "Old Cathedral," because, until 1976, it was the archbishop’s seat for nearly 170 years, it is the only church in the Americas where two emperors (of independent Brazil) were crowned in Christian rites.

The first chapel, built by the Carmelites who arrived in 1590, was replaced by today’s church. Building started about 1761. When the future King John VI and his royal followers arrived in 1808, he had this Carmelite church designated as the "Royal Chapel" as well as appointed the cathedral. When Brazil gained independence, the church became known as the "Imperial Chapel."

The interior is a heavenly vision of 18th-century white and gilded woodcarving that mixes fantastically ornate baroque and rococo styles to cover walls, arches and ceilings.

Crowning it are superb paintings on the main chapel’s ceiling, like a beautiful one of the Twelve Apostles.

The monumental painting behind the altar is of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and inspires prayers of gratitude and thanksgiving for her intercession.

Pilgrims should not miss this church — or Sao Francisco da Penitencia Church, another recommended by Stroik; he calls it one of the most beautiful baroque examples in Brazil.

"The Latin tradition of art and architecture is related to the sacramentality of Catholicism and the belief that the senses can be used to evangelize and also to help lead in worship," he explains. "[It’s] a great lesson for American Catholics who are very influenced by our historically Puritan culture."

Pilgrims will see that tradition multiplied in St. Francis’ Church. Building began in 1663, but it was not finished until 1773, even though the church opened for worship in 1736.

The outside is fairly plain, but pilgrims will surely find the church’s interior awe-inspiring.

Eyes will widen at the super-elaborate carvings covering almost every space. No place appears untouched by the master carvers’ liturgical artistry.

Eyes will open even wider because the interior is resplendent with gold leaf. Not just parts — but walls, murals and many wooden sculptures are also covered in gold. No other church in the New World seems to compare in the amount of decorative gold.

That’s not all. The ceiling paintings are masterful. One shows Jesus and our Blessed Mother in heaven. Another, done in 1738 — and the first in Brazil that used perspective — presents St. Francis receiving the stigmata as angels watch.

Behind the altar is a compelling image of Jesus: Jesus is depicted as crucified in triumph, yet the cross is replaced by three huge pairs of wings, and golden rays radiate from it.

Below, a Franciscan (St. Anthony? St. Francis?) — kneels in adoration. Near Jesus is a larger-than-life-size image of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. In 2001, this church was reopened after years of being closed for restoration.

Another landmark in the center of the city is the Mosteiro de São Bento (Monastery of St. Benedict), which monks founded after arriving here in 1590.

Still a monastery, the present church dates to the colonial period. Construction began in 1633.

Past the Renaissance facade is the rich, highly intricate interior that brings together superlative examples of 17th-century baroque and elegant 18th-century rococo carvings, with lots of gilding.

In the church’s Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament, sanctuary columns carved in swirls are somewhat reminiscent of Bernini’s columns for St. Peter’s baldachin.

Among the centuries-old art on the walls and ceiling, the major one to give pause is the image of Our Lady of Montserrat. She sits with the Child Jesus on a throne, five golden tiers high.

The new Catedral Metropolitana de São Sebastiao (Metropolitan Cathedral of St. Sebastian) of Rio de Janeiro, named to honor the patron saint of Rio, is uniquely different.

Large enough to hold upwards of 20,000 people, this late 20th-century edifice’s four huge stained-glass windows reach nearly to the top of the church. The lower level hosts a Sacred Art Museum. Pope John Paul II visited here in 1980.

Rio de Janeiro also has four basilicas within it: The Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, Basilica of Our Lady of Lourdes, Basilica of St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Basilica of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

In addition, the National Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida — which Pope Francis visited during his trip to World Youth Day — is 160 miles from Rio. It is the world’s largest Marian shrine and one of the three most-visited shrines in the world.

Pilgrims can pray before the miraculous statue of Our Lady of Aparecida as the soon-to-be canonized John Paul II did.

No matter where they visit within Rio, pilgrims will be edified and ready to evangelize for Christ.

Joseph Pronechen is the

Register’s staff writer.




World Youth Day 2013 Official Prayer

Father, you sent your eternal Son to save the world and chose men and women, through him, with him and in him, to proclaim the Good News to all nations. Grant us the graces necessary so that joy may shine in the faces of all young people — the joy of being, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the evangelists the Church needs in the third millennium.

O Christ, Redeemer of humanity, the image of your open arms on the top of Corcovado welcomes all people. In your paschal offering, you brought us by the Holy Spirit to an encounter of sonship with the Father. Young people, who are fed by Eucharist, hear you in your word and meet you as their brother, need your infinite mercy to run the paths of the world missionary-disciples of the New Evangelization.

O Holy Spirit, love of the Father and the Son, with the splendor of your truth and the fire of your love, send your light to all young people, so that, driven by their experience of World Youth Day, they may bring to the four corners of the world faith, hope and charity, becoming great builders of a culture of life and peace and catalysts of a new world.


— via USCCB.org