A fire engine carrying the coffin with Pelè leads a funeral procession in Santos, Brazil. Photo by Antonio Lacerda/EPA-EFE
Jan. 3 (UPI) — The body of soccer icon Pelé is set to be buried in the coastal city of Santos on Tuesday afternoon, as a 24-hour wake comes to a close.
Pelé, who died last week age 82, scored most of his 1,283 goals for Santos football club. A 24-hour wake was held for the soccer star that saw more than 230,000 mourners across Brazil have come to pay their respects.
Just hours after being sworn in, Brazil’s new president, Luiz Inacio da Lula, joined the mourners.
When it ended at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, Pelé’s body was placed on a red fire engine by police guards and driven south towards the seafront. From there the cortege moved east along the coast, towards the home of his 100-year-old mother, Celeste Arantes, after which it set off for a nearby cemetery for a private burial.
Speaking to Santos’s official television channel, Lula voiced profound regret over the death of a sportsman whom he called a model of “good character, humility and dignity”.
“Pelé is so special. You can’t compare him to anyone because there is nobody comparable when it comes to being a football player or a human,” Lula said. “He’s a player who, from a very young age, enjoyed such extraordinary exposure … but was never snooty. He was always a humble citizen who treated others as equals.”
Even at 3 a.m., thousands of people were still standing in line to see the legend’s body one more time.
“This is no sacrifice,” Walter Henrique, 35, a tax analyst who traveled three hours to the wake, told The New York Times. “He gave us so much joy that it’s a pleasure to be here.”
Pelé, whose real name was Edson Arantes do Nascimento, was a force who led Brazil to World Cup championships in 1958, 1962 and 1970. He is still the only individual FIFA player to have won the title three times.
His cancer was discovered when he had surgery to remove a tumor from his colon last year. He was admitted to the hospital Nov. 29 for a respiratory infection and was re-evaluated for the chemotherapy treatment. Pelé also dealt with COVID-19 while hospitalized, and doctors discovered his cancer had spread.
National flags were lowered to half-staff in honor of the man who played more than 600 games.
The 2022 World Cup tournament, which ended in December, featured several tributes to the aging star.