Padre Cícero


Padre Cícero Pilgrimage. Procession. Catholicism. Juazeiro do Norte. Cariri. Ceará state. Since 1889. 500 thousand people

Padre Cícero


Padre Cícero Pilgrimage. Procession. Catholicism. Juazeiro do Norte. Cariri. Ceará state. Since 1889. 500 thousand people


Padre Cícero Pilgrimage

“Light writes dramatically and with lyricism in the Northeast of Brazil. Sunlight. A burning bush that only those with great faith are capable of defying. Thousands of them, milling densely in the streets. Leathery creased faces, rosaries hanging around their necks, straw hats on their heads, calloused feet.” *

Walking miles through the Cariri region in Ceará state, on knees up the stairway. Carrying legs, hearts, eyes… body parts sculpted in wood. Wedding dresses, photos, medical exams. Handmade objects, or those saved for eternity: they are ex-votos, the proof that a miracle has taken place.

“It is sacred territory for these pilgrims

who have traveled so far,

a path of stone and sand”

Gilmar de Carvalho*

It’s been more than one hundred and twenty years since Brazilian sertão people started heading in this direction to come closer to Padim: a northeastern man like many others, who lived in simplicity and was chosen by God to solve the hardships of his patronage. Cícero Romão Batista was born in the city of Crato and was inspired by the story of Saint Francis: it was his calling to be a man in service of faith. When he first came to what was then the village of Juazeiro do Norte, he felt very much at ease and, in a dream, received a confirmation that this was his place. In a scene similar to the Last Supper, Jesus turned to him and ordered: “Cícero, look after the poor.”

In that village, Father Cícero, who had been a regular monastery student with low oratory marks, organized a secular sisterhood, took part in political decision-making, and the elderly say he even went door-to-door to talk to believers and offer advice and help.

“Where do these people go

as they march in pilgrimage?”

Extract from a worship song at Padre Cícero pilgrimages

It’s also worth noting that those lands on the base of Chapada do Araripe are filled with other stories; stories of leather craftsmen and embroidery artists, of cordel books with drawings and poetry about local cosmogony. Padim Ciço’s dry dust bowl sertões are the places of household tales. They are stories that are still not in books - like of how to make food in any heat and with whatever little ingredients available, women who stitch embroidery with cactus thorns, people who believe in believing.

One of the most reproduced litanies is about a group of vigilantes travelling through the northeastern region of Brazil to avenge the poverty of the weaker ones. Virgulino, known as Lampião, was one of the main leaders of the Cangaço movement. Lampião was one of many who surrendered to the charisma of the patron of the poor, and stopped to listen to Cícero’s prophecies and blessings before resuming his roaming.

“To feel what Jesus felt

To smile like Jesus smiled

And by the end of the day, I know I’d sleep a happier man”

Extract from Catholic song

And starting in 1889, more people started coming in. In the believer Maria de Araújo’s mouth, they swear on God, the host consecrated by Father Cícero turned into blood! The impossible happened again and again over the course of two years, quickly turned into news. Then people from all over the world came to see the dirty ragged,  believer, and the miracle-working Father.

The miracle moved and intrigued many. An investigationconducted by the Catholic Church found it legitimate and, then, refuted it. Father Cícero went to Rome to speak for himself and it was some conversation, so the story goes. But once back in Brazilian territory, news came out about Cícero being excommunicated by the Vatican.

“Being Holy is about dying and being reborn for a life with Jesus”

Father Mario de Sousa

It was too late! The people of Cariri had put faith into Cícero, who was then not only a saint, but also a protector. Persecuted by Catholicism, adored by his people. The Father started building churches, giving sermons, and conceding many more miracles: impossible marriages, cures from evils, abundant harvests.

On the city’s hills of Horto, he established a place for prayer and devotion. Out of reach from catholic institution’s control, some say the place was like a new Jerusalem. And it still is during the eight pilgrimages for the Saint that take place every year: on All Soul’s Day, they sing their way to his coffin, and on the remaining dates, millions of people retrace the steps taken by a man who died under suspicion of speaking awfully too simply about love.

The tricky thing is that the people – as usual – they understood it. The believer had so much blood in her mouth she died in cloister, the Father was forbidden to pray at mass. But together, they all sang the same stories, with the same accents. And it seems like there’s nothing better than music and smiling eyes to grow the Sertão in the world: there are more and more beautiful chairs by people’s homes waiting for the pilgrims carrying their candles and flowerscomposing a unique grammar of gestures, under the ruthless sun.

So much beauty and strength can only be a miracle. 2015 came and the Vatican asked for official forgiveness. They looked at it the right way, took a seat with the people, and joined the most notorious march from Northeast Brazil in the world: it is divine providence, it is a Saint’s prophecy !

*Written by Gilmar de Cravalho on the book 'Benditos', by Tiago Santana

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