Rio de Janeiro celebrates Christ the Redeemer’s 80th anniversary

Rio de Janeiro (dpa) – Rio de Janeiro is about to throw a bigparty to celebrate the 80th birthday of its Christ the Redeemerstatue, an icon of the city and of all of Brazil.
Wednesday’s celebration will be “a big bash. I promise,”says Father Omar Raposo, head of the pilgrimage site which was giventhe status of a Catholic sanctuary in 2006.
Millions of people have visited the 38-metre white statue openingits arms above Brazil’s second-largest city on top of the710-metres-high Corcovado Mountain.
The late pope John Paul II came here in 1980, and his successor Benedict XVI is expected to do so in 2013.
Most visitors go up with a rack railway, gasping over the spectacular views over Rio’s masses of houses and the Copacabana beaches during the 20-minute ascent.
They all want to see Christ the Redeemer, which was designed by local engineer Heitor da Silva, artist Carlos Oswald and sculpted byFrance’s Paul Landowski.
Up to 4,000 tourists a day visit the statue, which serves as a landmark for people trying to find an orientation in the city below.
“Christ opens up his arms. He stands for life, love, hope. This monument is a very special shrine, with the horizon as its walls and the sky as its ceiling,” Father Raposo says.
The priest, who belongs to the archdiocese of Rio de Janeiro, comes up to the chapel beneath the statue almost daily, sometimes even twice a day.
“We celebrate mass every day,” he explains. “We also have a lot of baptisms, and a wedding every week.”
Tourists pose for photographs in front of the statue, and choirs from all over the world come to sing here.
The statue also has a special significance for Salvador Liporace and his wife Izolina, who have come to renew their wedding vows.
“Christ has stood by us for 42 years of marriage,” Salvador says. “We hope he stays with us until our 50th wedding anniversary.”
Young couples also come here, many of them to take wedding photographs.
Corcovado’s attractions include a spectacular view of the 395-metre Sugar Loaf Mountain. Already in the early 19th century, it fascinated Brazil’s first emperor Pedro I.
His son and successor Pedro II launched the construction of the rack railway. Its first part linking the neighbourhoods of Cosme Velho and Paineiras was opened on October 9, 1884.
The 3,824-metre railway was finished a year later. And nearly 50 years on, Christ the Redeemer was inaugurated by then president Getulio Vargas and cardinal Sebastiao Leme.
Gabriel, a singer, takes the train 32 times a day. He and the three other members of the group Bom de Samba get in at the second-to-last station to cheer tourists going up with songs such as Cidade Maravilhosa (Marvellous City).
The travellers just love it, and even break into a dance, however crowded the wagon. “We have been doing this for 10 years, and it’s fantastic,” Gabriel says.
Stores abound about Christ the Redeemer, with many tourists looking for an opening in the 8-metres-high pedestal to go up the statue – in vain. “Some even believe there is a revolving restaurant in the head of the statue,” Carlos says.
His job is to take care that nobody takes photographs inside the Capela de Nossa Senhora da Aparecida, the small chapel inside the pedestal, which was consecrated in 2006.
It is here that a mass will be celebrated on October 12 to mark the anniversary. Christ the Redeemer will also be illuminated at night with the latest technology, and festivities with music are due to take place in Rio de Janeiro’s Flamengo Park.