Spiritual trip to Belo Horizonte
It’s a sort of homecoming after two earlier visits. We are in Belo Horizonte, Brazil where we hope to witness something special: the indisputable admiration for the late Padre (Father) Eustaquio. Why? Because we, a typical Dutch family, are part of his extended family. This is a personal story about a special trip to a special place.
Our story starts in a traditional middleclass neighborhood (bairro) called Padre Eustaquio. The taxi drops us at the final destination of our Brazil trip. This is the place where in the coming days all kinds of celebrations will take place: Igreja (church) Padre Eustaquio. Observant readers already noticed that both the area as well as the church are named after Padre Eustaquio. There are good reasons for that, but more about him later.
Arriving at the church I see a man on his knees, praying. His knees are hitting the hardstone floor, but he doesn’t seem to care. His eyes are closed, his lips are mumbling.
I take a picture but almost feel as an intruder.
The man slowly gets up on his feet again. He looks at me and starts to smile. His face shows a little sign of surprise. I can just hear him think: what is this ‘stranger’ doing in this local church downtown Belo Horizonte? There are not many strangers visiting this tough neighborhood. It’s definitely not a tourist attraction. The nearest tourist destination is more than one hour away: Ouro Preto. Rio de Janeiro is 6 hours by car, 1 hour by plane.
But still we are here. For a good reason.
The man passes me by. Now I am alone in what actually is a chapel. In the center of this chapel a man is buried inside a real tomb. On top of the tomb stands a small statue, marking the final resting place of Father Eustaquio. Originally a Dutchman, now buried in the inlands of Brazil. And not only buried, also worshipped.
Padre Eustaquio from Holland
Eustaquio (last name van Lieshout) was probably one of the first ‘strangers’ to visit the area, back in the 1930s. As a missionary he traveled from the Netherlands to Brazil to not only promote Catholicism, but also to help the poor. But he achieved way more than that. Eustaquio was a special man, someone with charisma, a strong sense of humanity and even proclaimed healing capabilities.
Indeed, healing. The story goes that Eustaquio was able to cure people (even long after his death). It is believed that his healing powers were activated by strong admiration, prayers and, before his death, physical connection.
I walk to the tomb and read his name on a big plaque. This is the third time I am visiting his tomb. It all started in the early 2000s when my father started to tell stories about Padre Eustaquio. He actually was the brother of my grandmother. My father’s uncle. That is what makes this story such a personal one.
30 August: big celebration
The next day we attend a big celebration. On 30 August 1943 Eustaquio passed away. This year marks the 74th anniversary of his decease. Still today, thousands of admirers and believers flock together in and around this picturesque church to sing, pray and celebrate. People are buying souvenirs with his image. Personal items are being rubbed against the gown which Eustaquio actually wore. People touch the statue, making pictures of anything that is related to him. It’s almost unreal to see the fascination for his legacy.
Even after three visits, I am still impressed by the local worship; the admiration for a single man. A man who passed away long time ago. To hear people shouting his name, thousands of miles away from his motherland. It’s incredible, I have to admit. Especially when that man is part of your family.
I think in Europe many have become too rational to believe in someone’s power to heal. But not here, not in Belo Horizonte. Here people strongly believe Eustaquio will soon be declared a holy person by the Vatican (following his beatification in 2006). The local church seems to be an anchor to many.
During a break from the festivities, we walk around in the neighborhood that carries Father Eustaquio’s name. Here, life is tough. The local hospital is almost bankrupt leaving residents without any proper healthcare in the area. Brazil’s economy is going down. People are losing their jobs. It’s the harsh reality of life you see on the streets. Still people are friendly and happy we came.
Our visit doesn’t go unnoticed. Me and my wife are traveling together with my parents and two children. The local media are interested to interview three generations of Eustaquio family members. It seems inevitable, but for me the media attention is not necessary. I hope the people in Belo Horizonte just appreciate us being there. For us, this visit is our way of keeping this important story alive within our family.
Text and photography by: Emiel van den Boomen