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Violence in a Rio slum turned a suburban pastor into an activist

Antônio Carlos Costa was happy as a pastor in suburban Rio de Janeiro. But violence in a city slum changed his life forever.

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"Rio residents, with good reason, complain about pollution on the beach," columnist Ancelmo Gois wrote. "Well, look at the case of the kids in the favela ... who don't even have a beach."

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The Rio de Paz volunteers are as present on the street as they are in social media: Costa's iPhone sends out a steady stream of tweets, ranging from Bible verses to updates on the new freedom of information law to existential musings ("What does it mean to be a Christian in a country of misery and inequality?" "Thousands of non-Christians stumble with the lack of commitment the church has to social justice.")

In a recent interview, Costa has strong words for church leaders in Brazil. But he then backtracks.

"I feel revolted with the church. But if I returned to look at myself five years ago, I would have found myself considering myself completely Christian and not having the least bit of social concern," Costa says one recent weekday after leaving a public audience in the state legislature on overcrowding in prisons. Afterward he is planning to meet with transparency and anticorruption activists from around Brazil at a downtown bookstore.

Then Costa softens his tone and says he needs to show the same "mercy" toward mainstream churches that Rio de Paz strives to show to those in need around Rio de Janeiro.

"I have a lot to be ashamed of in all of the years since I was ordained," he says. "In those years, there were massacres, violations of human rights.

"And I was quiet."

• For more, visit http://riodepaz.org.

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