RIO DE JANEIRO – Residents and visitors filled the streets of Rio de Janeiro on Friday for the start of the city’s world-famous Carnival, but Mayor Marcelo Crivella, an evangelical bishop, again skipped the traditional opening ceremony.
For decades, the pre-Lenten bacchanal kicked off with the mayor’s presenting the symbolic key to the city to Rei Momo, the king of Carnival.
The samba schools would provide musical accompaniment for the city hall ceremony at mid-day on the Friday before Ash Wednesday.
But all of that changed in February 2017 with Rio’s first Carnival under Mayor Crivella, a former gospel singer and bishop of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, founded in 1977 by his uncle Edir Macedo.
The Universal Church urges its adherents to flee from the “temptations” of Carnival.
While running for mayor, Crivella said that his faith and the dogmas of his church would not interfere with his political responsibilities, but some Rio residents – known as Cariocas – see his continuing to snub Carnival as a betrayal of that promise.
The uncertainty about the ceremony did not delay the start of the festivities, as the 21 troupes scheduled to perform on Friday were in the streets by early afternoon.
Thousands of revelers trailed behind the performers, many of them in costume themselves.
In Rio’s bohemian Santa Teresa neighborhood, plenty of the party-goers were dressed as nuns in honor of the Carmelite nuns who, according to legend, scaled the walls of the Santa Teresa convent to take part in Carnival.
As evening approached, the custodians of the symbolic key to the city appeared at the Sambadrome to join the head of municipal tourism agency Riotur in declaring the start of the reign of Rei Momo.
The key now used was created in the 1970s by Riotur employee Jose Geraldo de Jesus, “Candonga.”
Following his death in 1997, his daughter Cristina and sons Sergio and Mauricio – known collectively as the children of Candonga – became the guardians of the key.
While Riotur boss Marcelo Alves did not comment on Crivella’s absence, one of the Candonga brothers opined that the mayor was remiss in not showing up.
“As a politician he was elected to do the right thing for the city,” the guardian said.