April 23rd, 2011
10:17 PM ET
By Marilia Brocchetto, CNN
(CNN) - Opening night for the Passion of the Christ re-enactment in Rio de Janeiro's famous Cidade de Deus neighborhood Friday night was a little different.
Instead of a Jesus with long strands of hair crucified, the packed theater saw the Son of God in dreadlocks being burned alive inside tires, in a torture by known by drug traffickers as "microwave."
Directed and written by Adilson Dias, the play modernizes the words in one of religion's most well-known biblical stories and brings it home for a community surrounded by drug traffic and crime. All 15 actors, ages 18 to 30, had some connection with Rio's drug traffic.
Some were victims who lost their families to the drug violence, others were dealers before becoming actors. The company works together to keep each other accountable and out of trouble.
In this story, the messiah is a young missionary trying to evangelize a group of delinquent youths amidst drugs, heavy artillery and the dangers of everyday life in the slums. At the last supper, drugs are shared before the bread.
"I truly believe that if Jesus were alive today, humanity would find a way, with a cross or without, for him not to be alive," Dias said. When he grew up in the slums, he was told, 'Here (in the slums), only Jesus saves.' I then began to imagine Jesus getting here. What he would find today."
Dias' relationship with religion and culture began in the streets. He "lived" in front of the Candelaria Church and used cultural centers for drinking water.
Fast-forward a couple of decades. The now nonpracticing yet devout Catholic says he has the utmost respect for the words of Jesus.
"Thankfully, I live in a country that allows for freedom of expression even in the areas that are most impacted by social and economical inequalities," he said.
Dias' Theater Company Provocation will stage the play "Another Passion" for three nights at the Cidade de Deus before starting a monthlong journey through other smaller communities in Rio. Two filmmakers have expressed interest in turning the play a movie, Dias told CNN.
Brazil is heavily Catholic, but the Archdiocese of Rio De Janero has made no official comment on the play. E-mails and phone calls by CNN to the archdiocese have not yet been answered.
Dias says he's heard a handful of negative comments from a few religious communities in the area, but he tells CNN there have been no large-scale protests or retaliation against his play. He says he would welcome and value it if clergy came to watch his play.
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team and frequent posts from religion scholar and author Stephen Prothero.