A Brazilian priest is being hailed as a hero after he died on March 13 saving two people from drowning in a lake in Bezerros, in Pernambuco State.

Father Fernando de Lima Silva, 38, allegedly saved a mother and a child that were struggling to keep their heads above water after a boat accident. Exhausted shortly after taking both to safety, he apparently lost all strength and ended up drowning, reports said.

The police is still investigating the circumstances of the incident. The victims supposedly saved by the priest haven’t yet been identified.

“By now, we only know that he saved a woman and her child before drowning. We don’t have any additional information on the case,” Father Aloísio Ricardo Aleixo, the diocesan chancellor of Caruaru, told Crux.

The events that led to Silva’s death were reported by a few witnesses to local newspapers. According to the news website NE10 Interior, the police confirmed that the priest was in a small boat with a woman and a child and that it capsized when the occupants got up to take a picture.

The priest allegedly jumped into the water and caught the child first. Then he swam to rescue the mother, being helped by some bystanders. Silva was taken to a nearby hospital but was soon declared dead.

The news on Silva’s sudden death was received with shock by members of the parish Our Lady of Lourdes in the nearby city of Gravatá, which he ran.

“I was waiting for the on-line Holy Mass to begin and I realized it was taking too long. I called a member of the communications’ ministry and she told me the news. I couldn’t believe it. The previous Friday he had celebrated the Mass and we met with him,” parishioner Viviane Henrique told Crux.

According to Henrique, Silva was a “considerate, charismatic” priest and was especially gifted in his work with young people.

“He led a life of giving himself to others. I was moved by the heroism he showed in that incident,” she added.

Aleixo said that Silva was ordained seven years ago and always demonstrated diligence in his work with parishioners and members of remote communities.

“His was a poor community, and he was fully devoted to it. His death caused great commotion in Gravatá and in his birthplace, Taquaritinga do Norte. We’ve received dozens and dozens of messages since he died, from people who liked him,” he said.

According to Flávio Ferreira de Lima, Silva’s brother, the priest “would do it all over again, ten times if necessary.”

“He always loved his neighbor and never had to think twice before doing what he thought was right,” he told Crux.

After going through a phase of partying in his younger years, Silva met a Charismatic Catholic Renewal community and joined it with his brother Flávio.

“He used to tell people that Christ rescued him from that kind of life,” Lima said.

His moral maturation during seminary didn’t change his joyful nature and his natural ability to attract the devotion of young people, his brother said.

“He was very successful in drawing the youth to the Church. He worried about the need to renew the Church’s membership. But he did it naturally by showing people that a Catholic can be cheerful,” Lima added.

The incident had a huge impact on their parents and two siblings, but the local Church has provided all the necessary support to the family, Lima said.

“The help we got from the Church and the love shown by my brother’s community has allowed us to stay strong,” he said.

Viviane Henrique recalled that Silva’s motto as a priest was “The good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep”, something that he always manifested, she said.

“I don’t think that the motto he chose in his ordination and the way he died were just a coincidence. Those were God’s signs,” Lima said.

He has been encouraging his brothers’ parishioners to be inspired by his example and keep working for the community. “We cannot stop doing his work,” he said.