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A spiritual travel tip: Belo Horizonte, Brazil

May 25, 2010

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

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.

Rua Padre Eustaquio

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.

church

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 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.

grave 2 grave

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.

portrait

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.

Candles in chapel

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.

stadium 2 stadium 1

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

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 time.

on the field children stadium

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.

interview 2 interview 1

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.

candles in the stadium

Why visit?

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.
Rio 1 Rio 2
Rio 3 Rio 4

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!).
ouro preto 1 ouro preto 2

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…

new tomb

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.

Bus PE Eustaquio Memorabilia
Shop PE Eustaquio sticker on car PE Eustaquio

We visited during the 2006 soccer World Championship, so we came across a lot of green/yellow and Ronaldinho fan material!

Brasil girl Ronaldinho

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.

hospital bed hospital wall

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….

Beatification in the news Painting Eustaquio

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From → Americas

10 Comments
  1. Emiel, what a touching story – and you are famous after all! Who would’ve guessed….Famous by relation is still fame to me! No seriously, this is an amazing story. The impact of one person can be shocking. Such a reminder of what we can accomplish if we think and plan and act correctly and with compassion in our life. I loved the blog post. I really think it’s important to incorporate the personal into the informational so you have done it very well. Good job! And thank you for writing those travel memoirs…….you’ll always have your own blog posts for refreshing your memory too…..

    • Emiel permalink

      Dear Farnoosh,
      Thanks so much for your lovely comment! This story was indeed an important one and I’m very glad you liked it. I’ll keep on posting 🙂
      Emiel

      • Dear Emiel,
        I’d love to see a new travel post here……….you are so well-traveled and you live in such a unique part of the world.
        I’ll check back again soon!

  2. How wonderful! What an amazing experience! It is amazing how large an impact one person can make, and we must be aware of that every step of the way. I did wonder all the way through, if he was someone you knew personally as a great uncle!

    • Emiel permalink

      Dear Kelly,
      Thanks so much, it indeed was one of my most impressive experiences ever!
      Emiel

  3. That was so interesting! What a beautiful story. To have a member of your family to be so loved and worshipped by people in another part of the world…I can’t imagine how that feels! Thank-you for sharing your story Emiel 🙂

  4. Wow, I had heard about Belo Horizonte before, but this was quite educational regarding Father Eustaquio… 70000 people packing a stadium so many years after his death! That is a testimonial to the impact he had. Thanks for this post.

    • Ryan,
      Thanks for your comment. Indeed it was an amazing experience that I will never forget. I am actually glad to have been able to share it in this way.
      Good luck with your preparations for Colombia!

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