Brazil Honors Pelé on Anniversary of His Death in Beautiful Display

By: Carol Kingston | Published: Jan 21, 2024

A heartfelt tribute to iconic soccer superstar Pelé was held in December 2023 following the anniversary of his death a year before.

The famous Christ the Redeemer statue wore a projected No. 10 Brazil jersey of Pelé for the event. Onlookers saw the image of this statue of Jesus wearing a football jersey as a fitting tribute to the late national sports figure.

Pelé’s Death

The footballer was diagnosed with colon cancer in September 2021. As the disease progressed, he was eventually admitted to the hospital on Nov. 29, 2022, with respiratory issues.

Empty hospital beds with medical equipment nearby.

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Pelé experienced renal and cardiac complications, which led to his eventual death from multiple organ failure at Albert Einstein Hospital on Dec. 29, 2022. He died at the age of 82, and the Brazilian government called for a national period of mourning for three days upon news of his death.

The Pope’s Words for Pelé

As part of the recent tribute, a message from Pope Francis was read to the crowd. It was delivered in the form of a letter while an orchestra played.

The Pope sharing a laugh with Brazillian President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner

Source: Casa Rosada/Wikipedia

“Pelé, as Mr. Edson Arantes do Nascimento became globally known, was undoubtedly an athlete who showed in his life all positive traits of a sportsman,” the Pope’s letter said. Pelé was a devoted Catholic who had a devout family upbringing.

Pelé’s History with Pope Francis

While Pelé never got to meet Pope Francis, he was a supporter of the church and received the Pope’s praise. He donated a signed jersey to the Pope that is now displayed in a Vatican museum.

A crowd of people gathering around Pope Francis.

Source: Edgar Jiménez/Wikipedia

Pope Francis was once asked to choose between Argentine football players Messi and Maradona to determine who was his favorite. To the surprise of the crowd, he decided to talk about Pelé instead of the other two.

Pelé’s Football Legacy

Pelé is widely considered by many sports enthusiasts around the world to be one of the greatest football players in history.

A soccer ball at rest as the sun sets on the field.

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He played at the World Cup at just 17 years old and won three World Cups in his career, the highest level of football played worldwide. No other player has replicated this feat. He also has a long list of achievements, including Guinness World Records that no player has broken to this day.

Observers in Santos

Pelé’s hometown in Santos held several religious ceremonies to commemorate the anniversary of his passing, including at Museu Pelé. Museu Pelé is a museum that celebrates Pelé’s life and legacy.

A display in the museum in Brazil dedicated to Pelé

Source: Governo do Estado de São Paulo/Wikipedia

His fame as a football player brought popularity to the port town of Santos, making it well-known worldwide. He played for the team in Santos when he was 15 before moving up to the national team in Brazil.


The King of Football

Pelé was born under the name Edson Arantes do Nascimento in 1940. Pelé received his nickname from his friends during school. Reportedly, he mispronounced another football player’s name, and it became the name he was known by.

Soccer fans cheer as they watch a competitive match in a large stadium

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His other nickname from his time as a player is “the king of football.” He received this nickname after his performance at the 1958 World Cup.


Pelé’s Life in Politics

Fernando Cardoso, former president of Brazil, appointed Pelé as minister of sports in 1995. He leveraged his position and popularity to try to fight against corruption in the country’s football organizations. He succeeded in presenting multiple reforms during his time as minister.

Pelé and Lula, the president of Brazil, appearing at an event together.

Source: Fabio Rodrigues Pozzebom/ABr/Wikipedia

In his last years, Pelé was an opponent of Vladimir Putin. In 2022, he publicly decried Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Instagram.


Tribute at Vila Belmiro Stadium

The football club in Santos held a tribute to Pelé in the Vila Belmiro stadium.

The view of the Vila Beliro stadium in Brazil without players or adoring fans.

Source: Nikolas Maciel Fabrício/Wikipedia

One of Pelé’s sons, Edson Cholbi do Nascimento, performed a ceremony where 10 white balloons were released into the air. A crowd observed the tribute in the stadium. Pelé’s funeral was held in this stadium just a year before, making it an important place for Pelé fans and other football players.


Pelé Added to the Dictionary

A popular dictionary in Brazil also paid tribute to Pelé after he died in 2022. In 2023, the Michaelis dictionary added “Pelé” to its online page, finally solidifying it as a word in Portuguese.

A page from a dictionary.

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The Michaelis dictionary defined the word as “someone who is out of the ordinary, who or who by virtue of their quality, value or superiority cannot be equated to anything or anyone.”


Cristiano Ronaldo’s Reaction to Pelé’s Death

Famous Brazilian football player Cristiano Ronaldo participated in a tribute to Pelé when he died in 2022. Ronaldo is another legendary football player who plays the same position as Pelé.

Cristiano Ronaldo meeting with Cristina Cifuentes in 2016

Source: Cristina Cifuentes/Wikipedia

“A simple goodbye to the eternal King Pelé will never be enough to express the pain that hits the entire world of football at this moment. An inspiration for so many millions, a reference of yesterday, today, always,” he said.


Remembering Pelé

More than the number of goals that Pelé scored or the records he set, people remember him for his warm personality and professional sportsmanship. Pelé was a humble person who helped contribute to a positive Brazilian identity.

An empty goal on an empty soccer field.

Source: RGR G./Pexels

His lengthy, nearly 20-year reign at the top of the game of football is an inspirational story that will remain in the hearts of Brazilians and fans across the world for years to come.