This post is not about a regular travel tip. It is not about an architectural wonder or the most beautiful nature scenery ever. I want to share my experience when visiting Belo Horizonte in Brazil. I must admit, I went there with a purpose. An almost holy purpose.
Easy-going neighborhood in Belo Horizonte
We are in a small neighborhood northwest of the center of Belo Horizonte. It’s called Padre Eustáquio and is home to around 28,000 people. It is a quiet area with good public health clinics, schools and infrastructure. You can call them self-sufficient.
But something is special about this place. The neighborhood attracts pilgrims from all over the world in search of someone buried in the local Church of the Sacred Hearts: Father Eustaquio. He was a Dutch missionary priest who spent most of his life in Brazil. He died in 1943.
He was a man with a strong personality, caring about the poor and sick people. From all over the country people traveled to meet him in person. One touch, one pray was all they needed. They believed Eustaquio had the mystic ability to cure them.
Devotion in the local Belo Horizonte church
An older man on his knees, facing the grave in the back of the church, praying. By grabbing the fence around the grave he keeps himself upright.
Another woman is just entering the church. Upon entry, everybody touches the portrait of Father Eustaquio. You can see the paint on the frame peeling off after years of devotion.
It’s interesting to visit this place to see the devotion for a single man. But mind you, the devotion has seriously increased since the Vatican decided for the beatification of Father Eustaquio in the early 2000’s. Within the catholic church, the beatification (or blessing) process is the first step on the way to become a Saint.
For the Brazilian people Father Eustaquio is already a Saint. They believe miracles really happened after sick people prayed to him and were miraculously cured, even long after his death.
For me, Father Eustaquio is my father’s uncle. His life and the way he is admired in Brazil is a story that meanders through my family since the 1930s. That is why I decided to join the major celebration in Brazil upon Eustaquio’s beatification. A trip I will never, ever forget….
Celebration with 70,000 people
15 June 2006. The Mineirao soccer stadium in Belo Horizonte is packed with 70,000 people. It’s Brazil, so it must be a soccer match you think. No, not this time.
All these people came to celebrate the beatification of their Father Eustaquio. Although burried in Belo Horizonte, he became (and is) famous all over Brazil.
To become beatificated, the Vatican needed to acknowledge a miracle. According to the Vatican, a miracle happened in 1962 when a Brazilian priest was cured from cancer after he prayed to Father Eustaquio. Believe it or not, but that’s when the Vatican decided he should be blessed.
Impact on the people of Belo Horizonte
You cannot believe the impact he has made in this area of Brazil. And again, more than 60 years later, he made a tremendous impact on me! 70,000 people shouting his name to honor him and celebrate his beatification, can you even imagine?
I and many of my family members were there, on the field, in the middle of the stadium, experiencing the moment to the fullest. It is hard to describe the way I felt at that moment. We as family members were proud, but felt very humble at the same tie.
Of course we as family members were interviewed extensively by the media, but we felt that we should not interfere in the devotion by the local people. Many were emotional and luckily did express how happy they felt about us being there and visit the ceremony.
When the evening fell 70,000 people lit a candle…..hoping that in a couple of years time ‘their’ Father Eustaquio will be declared a Saint.
Belo Horizonte travel
Ok I know, this post actually should be a travel tip, but it turned out to be more of a personal diary of a lifetime experience. But let me give you some tips when visiting the area.
We started with a 2-day visit to Rio de Janeiro, a great city with marvelous views of the bay. A must-see on your Brazil trip. The statue of Christo Redentor overlooking the bay, the Sugarloaf mountain and the beaches. Though seriously affected with street crime, Rio is still a place that truly impresses you. Check how we did a bike tour in Rio!
2 hours from Belo Horizonte, the ancient gold mining town of Ouro Preto is really worth a visit. Placed on the Unesco World Heritage List, this is the place were gold diggers established their own town back in 1698. The Baroque architecture is marvelous! You can surely spend a whole day wandering the streets and enter ancient buildings and churches (watch the golden decorations!). Check this blog to read about our visit to Ouro Preto and Mariana.
Our final destination of course was Belo Horizonte. If you are around or passing by, a visit to this small Padre Eustaquio neighborhood is worthwile. The grave was replaced in 2009 to a completely new tomb next to the church. The old grave could not handle the large amount of pilgrims…
But there is more as the whole neighborhood is named after Eustaquio. There are shops with gifts and memorabilia and the local school is named after him.
We visited during the 2006 soccer World Championship, so we came across a lot of green/yellow and Ronaldinho fan material!
Another interesting site is the small hospital where Eustaquio died in 1943. The room where he died is still kept intact, exactly the way it was when he died. His bed is still there and the walls of the room are full with photographs of people looking for some kind of spiritual support.
Brazil is a wonderful country with so many interesting areas and sites to visit. I’m sure we will return again, but then taking our children along. We are surely going to see more of the country. We will tell the story of Father Eustaquio to our children and hope it will have the same impact on them as it had on us….Update: Meantime we have visited Belo Horizonte with our kids. This is our latest story: A local hero in Brazil.