Fans of the late Brazilian football star Pele gather on the street as a firetruck transports Pele’s coffin to the Santos’ Memorial Cemetery in Santos, Sao Paulo state, Brazil on January 3, 2023. – The funeral procession through Santos will go past the house of Pele’s mother, 100-year-old Celeste Arantes, who is still alive. It will end at Santos’s Memorial Cemetery, where a Catholic funeral service will be held before Pele is interred in a special mausoleum. (Photo by CARL DE SOUZA / AFP)
President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva led the tributes Tuesday as Brazil said its final farewell to late football legend Pele, widely regarded as the greatest player of all time.
A flood of fans, politicians and football dignitaries turned out to pay their respects to the player known as “The King” in the southeastern city of Santos, home to the club where Pele, who died last week at age 82, spent most of his storied career.
Santos FC said some 250,000 people had attended his 24-hour wake in the Vila Belmiro stadium, where mourners continued arriving straight through the night.
That was followed by a massive funeral procession, as Pele’s casket — draped in the black-and-white flag of Santos and the green-and-yellow one of Brazil — was placed atop a firetruck for a final parade through the city, including an emotional stop in front of the house where his 100-year-old mother still lives.
Lula, who took office Sunday in a ceremony that started with a minute’s silence for Pele, was visibly moved as he and First Lady Rosangela “Janja” da Silva paused before the coffin at the wake and embraced the player’s widow, Marcia Cibele Aoki, who was in tears.
“Goodbye to the King. Rest in peace, Pele,” the president wrote on Twitter.
– Final parade –
Born Edson Arantes do Nascimento, Pele is the only player in history to win three World Cups (1958, 1962 and 1970).
He scored a world record 1,281 goals during his more than two-decade career with Santos (1956-74), the New York Cosmos (1975-77) and the Brazilian national team.
He died Thursday after a battle with cancer.
Tributes have poured in from around the world since his death, with current and former football greats hailing his genius for the “beautiful game,” including Brazil star Neymar, France’s Kylian Mbappe and Argentina’s Lionel Messi.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino, who attended the wake Monday, called Pele “a global icon of football” and said the sport’s governing body would ask all member countries to name a stadium in the player’s honor.
The wake ended Tuesday morning with a brief Catholic service, after which 10 state police guards in dress uniform placed the lid on Pele’s black casket.
A bright red firetruck then transported the coffin through the city, as huge crowds of fans, some in tears, lined the streets and gathered on balconies to say a last goodbye, chanting “1,000 goals, only Pele!”
The longest stop was outside the beige house where Pele’s mother, Celeste Arantes, still lives.
“Dona Celeste,” as she is known, has cognitive difficulties, and is unaware her world-famous son has died, according to the family. But Pele’s sister, Maria Lucia, who lives with her, clasped her hands and tearfully bowed her head to the massive crowd in gratitude, surrounded by family on the house’s balcony.
The funeral procession ended at the port city’s Memorial Cemetery, near the stadium, where a private funeral service will be held before Pele is interred in a 10-story mausoleum that holds the Guinness World Record as the tallest cemetery on Earth.
The cemetery said Pele’s embalmed body would rest in its coffin, displayed in the middle of a 200-square-meter (2,150-square-foot) replica football stadium with artificial turf, surrounded by gilded images from his glory days.
– ‘Pele was everything’ –
Life-long Santos fan Katia Cruz, 58, who lives a block from the stadium, said she had stood in line for four hours overnight to get into the Vila Belmiro, attending Pele’s wake without her husband because he was “inconsolable.”
“Pele was everything. He was the King. He deserves this,” she told AFP.
Tributes continued pouring in from around Brazil, which held three days of national mourning.
Rio de Janeiro’s mayor said the city would rename the street outside the iconic Maracana stadium Pele Avenue.
At the headquarters of the Brazilian Football Confederation, a giant poster with Pele’s image bore the word “eternal.”
Pele’s son Edinho said the family was grateful for the gestures.
But “any homage we can pay to him is small compared to what he represents and the life story he wrote,” he said.
“I am just so grateful and proud.”