RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) - Welcome to Brazil, Taylor Swift, it's been waiting for you.
As her sweep of Rio de Janeiro shows got underway this week, the pop superstar and her legions of devoted fans were greeted by the wide-open arms of the world's most-famous Christ statue, sporting a projected image of a Swift-inspired T-shirt.
The 125-foot Christ the Redeemer was illuminated Thursday night with a towering message welcoming the singer to the country for the latest leg of her Eras Tour. The grand show of hospitality was thanks to a charitable act by her fans and orchestrated by the Christ the Redeemer Archdiocesan Sanctuary, which manages the iconic statue.
On social media, Swifties asked Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes to project onto the statue a likeness of the “Junior Jewels” shirt from Swift's “You Belong with Me” music video. Their plea went viral. Paes, who once called the singer the “Madonna of our times,” said he'd take the matter to the Rev. Omar Raposo, the rector of the sanctuary.
“Okay, I did my part!” said Paes on X, formerly known as Twitter. “From today onwards, I ask all fan clubs to direct their requests about the Sanctuary of Christ the Redeemer to our beloved Archdiocese. Friend Father Omar, the ball is in your court!”
In exchange for the projection, the priest, who runs the popular Catholic site, challenged Swifties to raise money to buy food and drinks for the upcoming Catholic Church's World Day of the Poor, which will be marked on Sunday.
In one day of crowdfunding, fans raised about 180,000 reais (about $37,000), which covered the cost of 20,000 loaves of panettones, a traditional sweet yeast bread, and bottled water for Rio's homeless, a statement from the sanctuary said.
With the fundraising goal met, the statue was lit Thursday night. A small team from the sanctuary and a few Swifties started distributing the food and drink to those in need that evening.
“Young people like challenges. So we directed the energy of fans to do good,” said Raposo, who also is pastor of Rio's SÃ£o Jose da Lagoa parish.
“This can and will be replicated! It's a mobilization for solidarity, Christ the Redeemer descending the Corcovado mountain to impact society.”
The statue, viewed as a global symbol of Christianity, was inaugurated nearly 100 years ago, and a priest came up with the idea for it even earlier, according to the monument's official site. Today, the Christ statue with its arms wide open welcomes millions of selfie-snapping tourists each year. In 2017, it was elected as one of the new seven Wonders of the World.
Rio is far from the only place to give Swift a special welcome for her Eras Tour. Cities across the United States paid homage to Swift - from declaring her the honorary mayor of the day to renaming stadiums.
Currently on her international leg of the tour, thousands of fans also recently gathered for the superstar's first-ever concert in Argentina, which took a political turn ahead of the country's presidential elections. Swift will play six Eras shows in Brazil. The first three will be at Rio's Estadio Nilton Santos beginning on Friday. Next week, she'll perform in SÃ£o Paulo at three shows at Allianz Parque stadium.
Hely Olivares, a 41 year-old Venezuelan who works and lives in Panama City, made the trip to Rio to attend what he thinks will be “one of those concerts that will make history.”
On the plane, he saw many passengers, some coming from other South American countries, wearing a T-shirt of the Eras Tour or the singer's friendship bracelets.
“There is a historical element that caught my attention, with the mobilization of so many people,” he said.
“We did it Swifties!” said a post on the Christ the Redeemer official Instagram account, which showed an aerial 360-degree video of the statue while Swift's song “You Belong with Me” played. “You were able to show all your love for Taylor and for your neighbor.”
Henao reported from Princeton, New Jersey.