Kathmandu: Brazil said a final farewell to Pelé on Tuesday, burying the legend who unified the bitterly divided country. Newly inaugurated President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva paid his respects at Vila Belmiro, the stadium where Pelé played for most of his career.
Pelé died last week at age 82 and was laid to rest in Santos, the city where he became famous after moving there at age 15 to play for Santos FC. The funeral Mass was held at the team’s Vila Belmiro stadium before his black casket was driven through the streets of the of Santos in a firetruck.
It was taken into the cemetery as bands played the team’s official song and a Roman Catholic hymn. Before the golden-wrapped casket arrived, attendees sang samba songs that Pelé liked.
Pelé in the 1960s and 1970s was perhaps the world’s most famous athlete. He met presidents and queens, and a civil war in Nigeria was put on hold so people could watch him play. Many Brazilians credit Pelé with putting the country on the world stage for the first time.
Rows of shirts with Pelé’s No. 10 were placed behind one of the stadium’s goals, waving in the city’s summer winds.
Pelé’s best friend Manoel Maria, also a former Santos player was also there. He said, “If I had all the wealth in the world I would never be able to repay what this man did for me and my family.” “He was as great a man as he was as a player, the best of all time. His legacy will outlive us all. And that can be seen in this long line with people of all ages here.”
FIFA President Gianni Infantino told journalists that every country should name a stadium after Pelé. “I am here with a lot of emotion, sadness, but also with a smile because he gave us so many smiles.”
Pelé had undergone treatment for colon cancer since 2021. The medical center where he had been hospitalized said he died of multiple organ failure as a result of the cancer.
Pelé led Brazil to World Cup titles in 1958, 1962 and 1970 and remains one of the team’s all-time leading scorers with 77 goals. Neymar tied Pelé’s record during this year’s World Cup in Qatar.