THE BLEACHED WHITE WALLS inside the one-room chapel glow with fluorescent lights. Perched on the highest street of an exasperatingly steep slope, only the sturdiest cars and most intrepid motorcycles even attempt to climb up here. This mountainside in Rio de Janeiro is covered with favelas, or shanty towns, which greet and swallow up downtown day workers in their cars as they zoom into the tunnel below towards the posh neighbourhoods on the other side.
The church is so high that residents here in the favela Fogueteiro can nearly look eye to eye with the city’s famous Christ statue—which sits atop Corcovado, a central peak that towers over the city—and, when the statue is lit at night, make out the features carved into his stone face.
Even in a city ripe with postcard views, the one from Fogueteiro is among Rio’s most mesmerising. But the favela is a place where a climate of dissent and mistrust is driving a thorn deep into Rio de Janeiro’s plan, in the words of the mayor Eduardo Paes, “to transform” itself before it hosts the 2016 Olympics. The community is supposed to be “pacified”—the verb Rio now uses to describe the occupation of favelas by thousands of new police personnel given special training in human rights and conflict mediation.