World Cup fever is taking the world by storm, and religion is grabbing a share of the international spotlight.
As Brazil prepares for the biggest event in the world of soccer, "churches are not content to sit on the sidelines and cheer," reported Religion News Service.
Religious leaders have launched a nationwide campaign to increase awareness about the children put at risk by the World Cup. Around 600,000 fans are expected to arrive in Brazil for the festivities, putting pressure on "the South American nation to combat its international reputation as a destination for child sex tourism," explained RNS.
"Research from Childhood Brazil, a human rights organization designed to protect children, shows sex crimes against children increased by 66 percent during the 2010 Word Cup in South Africa and by 28 percent during the 2006 games in Germany," the article reported.
But vulnerable children are not the only reason that churches will be on high alert during the World Cup.
Rosie Dawson, in an article for BBC, wrote that religious communities should pay close attention to players on the field, because "religion itself finds its expression in the game."
"You will see players making Catholic gestures such as the sign of the cross, but recent years have seen more evangelical expressions of Christianity. After (Brazil's) victory in the 2002 World Cup final, the whole team knelt in a huge prayer circle, with some players stripping off their shirts to show T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan 'I belong to Jesus,'" Dawson wrote.
The article reviews Brazil's religious landscape, exploring how the country has changed since that victory in 2002. Catholicism has had a powerful presence since the Portuguese colonized the area in the 16th century, but evangelical and Pentecostal Christianity have become more popular in recent years.
In more controversial news, Brazil's Catholic Church threatened to sue Italian state broadcaster RAI this week for an advertisement that digitally altered Rio de Janiero's famous Christ the Redeemer statue: "Controversy (broke out) over an Italian TV advertisement for the World Cup that shows the sculpture draped in the blue jersey of Italy's national team," reported NPR.
The ad was labelled disrespectful by the church that owns the rights to the statue's image. NPR included a quote from the president of the Vatican's sports organization, who was interviewed by an Italian newspaper: "We live in a world that has put God on the bench," Edio Costantini said.
These stories follow a Deseret News National article from earlier this week that outlined a variety of other concerns complicating Brazil's big moment. Do the event organizers, as Brazil's Catholic Church suggested in a story by Reuters, deserve a red card after all?
The one thing that's certain is that the soccer and religion will continue to be paired during World Cup festivities. As Imam Sohaib Sultan wrote in an essay for Time, "Religion and soccer, when rooted in simplicity and beauty, have great power to bring people together and to nurture higher values in people."
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @kelsey_dallas