Rio de Janeiro's iconic Christ the Redeemer statue was lit red and white in honour of Canada Day for the first time ever on Tuesday night.
"We're celebrating the most important day of Canada in the most important place for Brazilians," said Omar Raposo, a priest with the city's archdiocese, which owns and administers the statue. The strong wind at the statue's base whipped his cream silk robes around him as he stood in the dark at the base of Cristo, as it is known here, 750 metres above the city.
"This symbolizes the relationship with Canada, and the wide open arms with which we greet Canadians who are here in our midst in Brazil."
He then gave the signal, and Walter Corral, an Argentine lighting technician who handles special illumination of the Cristo, pushed a button on his laptop. The statue's out-stretched arms (which span 28 metres) turned red, while its body remained white.
"It had to be red arms and white body, vertical, because that is like your flag," Mr. Corral said.
Canada's Consul General in Rio, Sanjeev Chowdhury, thanked Father Omar for the "great honour the people of Brazil are bestowing on Canada."
Mr. Chowdhury noted that Canada has no team playing in the men's World Cup currently underway in Brazil, but added, "we are world champions in one sport" and then presented the bemused priest with a hockey jersey on behalf of Canadians.
Mr. Chowdury noted that Canada will host the FIFA Women's World Cup next year, and invited Father Omar to Canada to attend, equipped with his new jersey.
The statue was erected in 1931 and weighs 635 tonnes. Normally thronged with tourists, it was deserted and shrouded in mist when the small delegation from the Canadian consulate and the priest trekked to its base in the dark.
The archdiocese of Rio shines multi-coloured lights on Cristo from time to time – the statue was red on World AIDS Day, last year, and has been pink for breast cancer awareness and green on St. Patrick's Day. Had Argentina not pulled off a last-minute win against Switzerland in the football match earlier in the day, it's a fair bet that most people in the city would have assumed this special illumination was in recognition of the underdog Swiss.
Mr. Corral said there had also been talks between the archdiocese and the consulate of the United States about lighting the statue up in their national colours. But because the Fourth of July falls this Friday, when Brazil will play Colombia in the World Cup quarterfinals, the special lighting was already booked: Cristo will be lit, of course, with the green and yellow of the Brazilian football jersey.