Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has made a surprise appearance at an evangelical festival in Sao Paolo. Speaking to the 144,000-strong crowd at a youth event called "The Send," Bolsonaro took the opportunity to espouse his faith, declaring that he "believes in Jesus as his savior and that Brazil belongs to God.”
The controversial conservative, nicknamed "Trump of the Tropics" has been outspoken about his Christian faith ever since winning a landslide presidential election at the end of 2018. While campaigning in September of that year, Bolsonaro survived an assassination attempt. Stabbed as he greeted crowds in Juiz de Fora, Bolsonaro suffered perforation to parts of his liver, lungs and intestine. He later gave God the credit for his survival.
“Doctors who attended to me said that for every 100 stabbings of the kind I endured, only one person survives. So, I am a survivor and owe my life to God. It was His will for me to live,” he told the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN). The President also reportedly got baptised in the Jordan river during his campaign, despite being a member of the Catholic Church. His wife and sons are members of the evangelical church, which is exploding across the nation.
At one point during the gathering, preacher Todd White seemed to suggest that Bolsonaro had actually accepted Christ again during the event itself.
"I just got word from Brian Brennt who is in the stadium in Brazillia.. that your president just got born again," White shouted, to rapturous applause.
Fox News reporter Caleb Parke later noted that he'd spoken with The Send's organizers, who "said Bolsonaro wasn't making "a first decision for Christ," but that "he did say he believes in Jesus as his saviour and that Brazil belongs to God."
One of the speakers at the event - evangelist Christine Caine - tweeted that she was "astounded by what God is doing in Brazil."
Caine added: "In 31 years of ministry, I’ve never gone to preach the Gospel from one 65,000 seat arena straight to a 55,000 seat arena in the same day. It was surreal. God is on the move.
"My biggest takeaway from being in Brazil is that I don’t believe God enough. I dream too small. I expect too little. I rationalize too much. I’ve decided to press in for more. Dig deeper for more. Pray fervently for more. My faith has been stretched and I love it!!!”
Tough on crime and insistent that conservative values must always be central to Brazilian society, President Bolsonaro has invoked his Christian faith in many of his political speeches. "God above everything. There is no such thing as a secular state," he said in 2017. "The state is Christian, and any minority that is against this has to change, if they can."
The president has also come under fire for making a series of disturbing comments, particularly in relation to enacting political violence. Often quoted speaking fondly of the brutal military dictatorship that ruled Brazil between 1964 and 1985, in 2016 Bolsonaro once said that the regime's biggest mistake was "to torture but not kill."
"I’m pro-torture," he said on another occasion, "and the people are too.”