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   June 29, 2002 | 1230 IST


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Brazil's faithful rest easy

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Brazilians torn between their faith in God and their faith in the nation's soccer team on Sunday morning can rest easy.

Some of Brazil's most popular churches are pushing back their morning mass so that their flock can cheer the country's soccer team onto what could be a record fifth World Cup title, and hopefully say thanks afterward.

For the first time ever, Sao Paulo's Sao Bento Monastery will start the city's most well-attended Sunday mass an hour later to make room for Brazil's showdown with Germany.

A replica of the Statue of Liberty is adorned with a Brazilian national soccer team jersey "Out of respect for our faithful who come to mass, we've delayed service a bit," said Dom Joao Evangelista, head monk at the monastery, whose Gregorian chant-filled mass has made it a favorite among Brazilians on Sunday.

Even Father Marcelo Rossi, a young, guitar-strumming priest whose grass roots popularity rivals star striker Ronaldo's, shortened his 6 a.m. (0900 GMT) mass broadcast live on television to make room for the 8 a.m. (1100 GMT) game. His 9 a.m. (1200 GMT) mass has been canceled.

A huge number of people across the country will watch the game Sunday morning, whether it be in bed, over coffee at breakfast or on the big screens located for public viewing across the country.

But for some of Sao Paulo's most infamous criminals, Sunday will be a day of true punishment. Renowned kidnapper Wanderson Nilton de Paula Lima, known as "Andinho," and his inmate colleagues won't be allowed to watch the game from their maximum security prison cell.

"They ask who's winning, which teams are qualifying, but they won't be able to watch the game," said prison director Antonio Sergio de Oliveira.


In downtown Sao Paulo, street sellers are slashing prices on their World Cup wares trying to get rid of the T-shirts, banners, horns and every other item painted the color of Brazil's green and yellow flag.

Between yells of "fire sale," Arcelino Brito says he has cut the price on Brazilian flags to 1 real (35 cents) for a dozen from 2 reais for one. His price for a green and yellow T-shirt has fallen by 90 percent in three weeks.

"I didn't think Brazil would get this far. But I'm happy that I can now buy my T-shirt for a real cheap price," said Wagner Faria, a 38-year-old engineer, taking advantage of the price deflation.

Alongside Rio de Janeiro's famed Copacabana beach, fans have painted sand sculptures of the whole Brazilian squad and their coach, "Big Phil" Scolari. Few players can be recognized except for Ronaldo, whose new half-shaven head makes the striker easy to identify.

In the upscale Barra de Tijuca district with its trendy shopping malls and villas, even the U.S. Statue of Liberty is making its choice obvious. Standing at the gates of the "New York City" entertainment center, Lady Liberty wears an oversized yellow and green T-shirt atop its trademark tunic.

Hosts organizing the traditional Alzirao after game party in Rio are expecting 40,000 people on Sunday. If Brazil wins, they say the Samba-beat fueled party will last into Monday.

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