Evangelicals Claim Turf in Catholic Brazil

There is a young religious revolution stirring souls in Brazil. For many, it’s about 10 years old and known to wear pink dresses.

Alani Santos is better known as “The Little Missionary.” People flock to her touch, straining to be healed by the hands of a girl they believe can work miracles. Santos is one of many evangelical preachers and leaders – even exorcists – winning souls in Brazil. The convert count is at 44 million in a country that has historically been dominated by Catholicism.

“I feel a very intense happiness,” Alani says of her work. “We feel the power of God.”

Fusion’s Chief Investigative Reporter Mariana van Zeller traveled throughout Brazil and its 200 million people to track the sources and power of this evangelical revolution. Though its footprint has grown, its roots lie on the fringes, in jungle communities and poor neighborhoods. Evangelicals mix pure persistence with a unique blend of Christian and African mysticism that’s proven to be quite potent.

The growing ranks of believers have translated into bursting coffers for evangelical leaders. Critics say that charlatan healers and opportunist preachers are hijacking the faith to get in on the booming salvation business and take advantage of its largely poor, uneducated base.

“Don’t skimp on an act of God,” one pastor said, as he made an explicit cash-for-holy-oil pitch. “Stand up and come here with your money in hand.”

Exorcisms dial up the drama, and offerings like chiropractic care branch out from what traditional Catholics would expect from their church. Professor Eduardo Refkalefsky studies the business of churches in Brazil, where he says “anyone can become a pastor” due to a lack of regulation. He says regulation is needed to protect people from empty promises of prosperity and health.

Billionaire Edir Macedo established the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God in Rio De Janeiro, and he quickly became on of the richest religious leaders in the world. He’s also the owner of Brazil’s second-largest TV broadcaster.

For Alani Santos, who started attracting believers to her father’s church at the age of three, the attention and the appeal of helping people drive her in front of each new congregation.

“I like doing it, so I’m never going to stop,” she says. The believers and leaders of Brazil’s evangelical rise hope that the same can be said for their movement.