Brazil bids farewell to soccer star Pele in funeral procession

Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (left) greets the wife of Brazilian football legend Pele, Marcia Aoki (right), during his wake at the Urbano Caldeira stadium in Santos, Sao Paulo state, Brazil on January 3, 2023. Photo: AFP / Nelson Almeida

Emotional crowds bid Brazil soccer legend Pele a final farewell, lining the streets of Santos to watch his coffin taken to its final resting place from the city’s stadium where 230,000 mourners had filed past his open casket.

Young and old embraced as the funeral procession wound its way through the costal city’s streets for hours, with some fans in tears and others cheering and drumming for a national hero who rose from barefoot poverty to become one of the greatest and best-known athletes in modern history.

“It’s an irreparable loss for Brazil,” said Brazil’s newly sworn-in President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

Fans queue to see and give their last tributes and farewell to Pele at the Vila Belmiro stadium, home of Santos Football Club. Photo: NurPhoto via AFP / Gustavo Basso

“Pele, in addition to being the best soccer player in the world, was a humble, simple man.”

Pele died last week at the age of 82 after battling colon cancer for a year.

He was laid to rest at the city’s Ecumenical Memorial Necropolis, a 14-storey vertical cemetery with views of the soccer field in Santos that made him a star.

Pele’s funeral procession had left the city’s Vila Belmiro stadium, home of Santos Football Club, on Tuesday morning.

Pele played from 1956 to 1974 for the team, scoring more than 1000 goals. During a 24-hour wake, fans queued for hours to pay their respects, even overnight.

One of Tuesday’s most moving moments came when the firetruck bearing his coffin halted outside the home of Pele’s 100-year-old mother. Crowds there applauded and chanted “Pele is our king,” before holding a minute’s silence.

Pele’s sister Maria Lucia Nascimento, 78, watched in tears from a balcony and thanked the crowds in a brief TV interview.

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