Bolsonaro stresses Christian morals amid Rio's pre-Carnival

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has addressed tens of thousands of evangelicals on a beach in Rio de Janeiro, telling them that he is working to restore morality to Latin America's largest nation

RIO DE JANEIRO -- President Jair Bolsonaro addressed tens of thousands of evangelicals on a Rio de Janeiro beach Saturday, telling them Brazil's government is working to restore morality in Latin America’s largest nation, just as pre-Carnival festivities get under way.

Brazil “is changing because it has a government that respects family, owes loyalty to its people, and believes in God,” Bolsonaro told the cheering crowd, across the bay from Rio's Sugarloaf Mountain.

“I’m Christian and I believe Brazil can reach its well-deserved place of prominence on the world stage,” the far-right politician later added.

His address came days after a Cabinet shuffle that installed a general as his new chief of staff, boosting the number of military members in his administration that in 2019 was influenced more by the “ideological wing” of cultural conservatives.

The event in Rio, which celebrated the 40th anniversary of the International Grace of God Church, provided a stark contrast to pre-Carnival festivities that went into full swing this weekend, with revelers in skimpy costumes drinking and dancing at street parties throughout the city. Most street vendors at the church's bayside event weren't selling beer.

Many of the church’s faithful traveled on overnight buses from neighboring states to spend only a few hours at the event then immediately head home. The church was founded by evangelical R.R. Soares, who also hosts a popular television program called “Faith Show.”

“Who voted for our president? Raise your hands, and repeat after me,” Soares told the crowd, which gladly complied. “Jesus! ... Bless! ... Our! ... President!”

Earlier on Saturday, faced with questions from reporters in the capital, Brasilia, Bolsonaro responded with an offensive hand gesture.