No matter where visitors are in Rio de Janeiro, they can see Christ the Redeemer.
Towering more than 2,000 feet into the sky, the statue of Jesus welcomes visitors and residents to the city,arms stretched out wide.
The statue is one of the new seven wonders of the world as of 2007 and attracts tourists from all over the world, even more now that half a million people are expected to flock to the city for the Olympic Games.
Up by the statue, visitors can hear many different languages—Portuguese, English, Chinese—all blending together to make a symphony of voices.
But behind Christ’s 26-foot base, the noise is muted. A small chapel is tucked underneath the statue, and quiet music plays as people kneel and close their eyes in prayer. It’s a stark contrast to the selfies and crowds at the front of the statue.
It’s this chapel that really shows the religious aspect of the statue and why it can be so powerful for some.
“There’s a sense of faith on the mountain,” said visitor Roxanne Guerrero. “It’s a pilgrimage for many people—it certainly is for me.”
The statue has stood through the years as a symbol of Brazilian Christianity. Jesus’s arms are open wide,welcoming people to the city. His head is also pointed slightly down, as if he is looking at the faithful people of the city, according to cristoredentoroficial.com.
After years of construction, Christ the Redeemer opened on Oct. 12, 1931, the day of the patron saint of Brazil, Our Lady of Aparecida. The chapel below the statue was built in homage to her.
Today, people still visit the statue to pay homage to God and to pray. Weddings and baptisms are held int he chapel, and it’s open for people of all faiths to go in and pray. Almost 2 million people visit Christ the Redeemer each year, according to myriotravel.com.
But not all come for religious purposes. Some just want a selfie in front of Christ or to take a photo with their arms spread wide, just like the statue.
“It’s beautiful,” visitor Sofia Salgado said. “I’m Catholic, and I feel like it should have a deeper meaning to me, but it’s really just beautiful.”
Alex Pinheiro, a seminary student studying to be a priest, has spent a lot of time at the statue. At a distance, Pinheiro said, Christ represents a cross pointing to the four sides of the city. The small heart on his chest represents the love God has for all mankind.
“When you come close,” Pinheiro said, “the monument is Jesus alive, and Jesus resurrected.”
Kara Berg is a Ball State University student and writer for BSU at the Games, a group of 50 journalism students traveling from Muncie, Indiana to Rio for the Olympic Games. Follow them atbsuatthegames.com, @bsuatthegames on Twitter and Instagram, and BSU at the Games on Facebook.