OCCUPATION Singing and dancing priest, whose "aerobics of the Lord" services are topping Brazil's charts
ULTIMATE GOAL To inspire 40% of Brazilians to attend Mass by 2001
QUOTE "My job is to get the young back into the church."
Most priests won't turn supplicants away, but Brazil's Padre Marcelo Rossi, 31, must--or risk a riot. Second only to the Pope, the 6-ft. 4-in. priest is the greatest crowd gatherer in the Roman Catholic world. His appeal? After Mass, he sings and dances the Lord's praises in an electric whirlwind that he has termed, appropriately, "the aerobics of the Lord." While his followers sing along, he executes choreographed jumps, leaps and twists that the faithful try to copy. And when the spirit moves the Father especially vigorously, he will pour buckets of holy water on his ecstatic audience.
Padre Marcelo's theological workout was born of improvisation. Shortly after his ordination in 1989, he asked young churchgoers to stay after Mass and do aerobics, to prevent a crush at the door. His evangelical preaching style attracted so many worshippers that he had to move services to an old glass factory (capacity: 40,000) in a suburb of Sao Paolo. Now he's a multimedia sensation. He has sold nearly 5 million CDs and has 28 weekly radio shows. Thanks in part to the priest's rock-star popularity, more Brazilians are going to Mass: weekly attendance rose to 12% last year, up from 4% in 1997. "I do not use communication to denounce, but to announce Christ," he says. "Then they will open their hearts." And kick up their heels.
--By Sol Biderman/Sao Paolo