48 Years Later: Rio Pastor Recalls Billy Graham Crusade

By   •   June 12, 2022

Billy Graham visited Brazil several times during his ministry. He preached in São Paulo in 1962 during a tour of South America, and again in 1979. In 1960, he was in Rio for a one-day event, returning for a five-day Crusade in 1974 (pictured).

Forty-eight years after Billy Graham preached in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Franklin Graham shared the Gospel on the beach Saturday night during Esperança Rio.

In 1974, Alberto Stassen boarded a train with his mom and grandmother to see Billy Graham in Rio de Janeiro. He was 12 or so back then, but the moment Billy Graham invited people forward to accept Christ is imprinted in Alberto’s mind.

“I remember thousands and thousands of people leaving their place” in the stadium, he said. As a boy, he looked around in wonder.

“That was the first time I felt impacted by the Gospel. I met, years later, people that told me they accepted Christ on that day.”

It was October, and Billy Graham preached to nearly 600,000 people over the five-day Crusade, including 225,000 at once—the largest crowd to attend an evangelistic event in the western hemisphere.

Not far from where Alberto Stassen heard Billy Graham preach in 1974, he witnessed Franklin Graham share the Gospel Saturday night during a Festival in Rio de Janeiro. As a boy in 1974, Alberto was a spectator. Now as a pastor, he’s a participant in telling people about Jesus.

Alberto says God spoke to him back then, there in the middle of the crowd in Maracanã Stadium, home of Brazilian soccer and later host of the 2016 Olympic Games. He’d grown up in church but never made Christ his own.

He felt a stirring in his heart as Billy Graham preached, yet it wasn’t until five years later at age 17 that the stirring became something more.

That’s when a friend who was addicted to drugs came to him in a panic, wanting to run away because he was being sought after for money. His friend’s very life was on the line.

Alberto wondered what would happen if he were in the same position, if he were to face death right then.

“I was missing something in my life,” he said, and knew what it was. That day, he asked Jesus to be part of his life.

Now 60, Alberto was one of several interpreters who helped out with Esperança Rio (Hope Rio), a Franklin Graham Festival on Copacabana Beach Saturday night.

>>Photos from the Rio Festival with Franklin Graham

The beach is less than 20 minutes from where he first felt the nudge of the Gospel 48 years ago.

Since then, he’s worked with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association for 30 years and serves as a pastor to about 1,000 church members in nearby Nova Iguaçu. There’s great poverty and violence there, he said, and since the pandemic, many people have lost jobs and loved ones. Some have stopped going to church.

But there is always hope for the future when God is involved.

Shortly before Saturday’s Festival, Alberto said, “I believe that God is working today just the same way He did in 1974.”

And he stands ready to welcome any new believers from the weekend’s event to his church.

At the time of the 1974 Crusade in Maracanã Stadium, Brazil was honoring soccer star and three-time World Cup champion Pelé at his retirement from Brazilian club football, though he went on to play in the U.S. for a few years more. The stadium where Pelé had played was packed that October as Billy Graham shared Good News with the crowd.