12 July 2013
Altar servers assist in a liturgy at Our Lady of Paradise Cathedral in São Paulo. (photo: Izan Petterle)
As Rio de Janeiro gets ready for World Youth Day later this month, here’s a glimpse at another side of Brazil, from a profile in the magazine two summers ago:
On a cool Sunday morning in early April, parishioners fill the pews of the Melkite Greek Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Paradise in São Paulo, Brazil.
Numerous icons adorn the walls of the cathedral’s stunning nave. The two most precious icons figure prominently on the iconostasis, an icon screen dividing the sanctuary from the nave: Christ Pantocrator (Christ the Righteous Judge) and Theotokos (Mother of God). Overhead, a Byzantine—style mural of the crucified Christ covers the ceiling. Above the scene are painted in Greek the words “Triumph of Christ.”
Moments later, when the clock strikes 11, Archbishop Fares Maakaroun enters holding up the Book of the Gospels. A hush falls on the congregation, and the liturgy commences.
Located in the Paraíso (Portuguese for paradise) neighborhood in the heart of South America’s largest city and steps from its busiest thoroughfare, Paulista Avenue, the imposing Byzantine—style cathedral seems an unlikely landmark.
Yet, the cathedral and the Arab parishioners who built it have defined Paraíso since the 1940’s when construction began. By then, many of São Paulo’s Arab Christian immigrant families were living in the working—class neighborhood. In subsequent decades, the Arab community steadily grew, at times in sudden bursts, when emigrants fled conflict in Lebanon, Syria or elsewhere in the Middle East in search of a better life in the New World. Hearing about the opportunities in Brazil — often from relatives or friends already in Paraíso — São Paulo quickly became a preferred destination.
Today, the cathedral serves as the seat of the bishop of Our Lady of Paradise in São Paulo, spiritual home to an estimated 400,000 people — the largest Melkite Greek community not only in the Americas but in the world.
Read more about Paradise in Brazil from the July 2011 issue of ONE.
Tags: ONE magazine Melkite Greek Catholic Church Brazil World Youth Day