Image of the Day – Brazil’s Padre Cícero

Padre Cícero is one of the more famous and popular national religious figures among Brazilian Catholics. Born Cícero Romão Batista in 1844 in Brazil’s traditionally poor Northeast, was devout from a young age, beginning his studies with a priest at the age of six and allegedly taking the vow of chastity when he was 12. In the early 1870s, he settled in the town of Juazeiro in the interior of Ceará. While there, he allegedly had a dream in which he saw Jesus and the 12 disciples seated at a table for the last supper. Suddenly, poor Brazilians filled the room, and Jesus expressed his concern and anger that nothing was being done for the poor in this world, telling Padre Cícero to tend to them.

With this dream in mind, Padre Cícero began preaching to the poor, launching crusades against drunkenness and prostitution while also proclaiming the need for greater social equality and for society to take care of the poor. This message quickly made him popular in the Northeast, and settlers increasingly flocked to Juazeiro to hear Padre Cícero speak and to receive his counsel.  However, although he focused on the injustices and challenges facing Brazilian poor in the Northeast, he never challenged government or local officials or proclaimed the need for revolution, instead pointing to Christian charity and good-heartedness as the means for social justice and improvement. Indeed, Padre Cícero regularly worked with local coronels, or political chiefs, and proved to be a powerful political force for their own interests, given his pull with the poor.

While already revered, Padre Cícero saw his religious reputation magnify in the late 1800s. According to some, in 1889, while Padre Cícero was giving communion, the wine miraculously turned into blood in a woman’s mouth, an event that many others said happened to them while he was giving them communion. The church launched an inquiry, and while the first official investigation determined it was indeed a miracle, the Brazilian bishop was dissatisfied with the findings (and with Padre Cícero’s popularity overall), and launched a second investigation that found it was only a hoax, and Padre Cícero had his orders suspended. Padre Cícero traveled to Rome, where he had his orders restored, and then returned to Juazeiro, where he continued to preach to the poor and offer them counsel and aid. Through the 1910s and 1920s, his political power faded, but he continued to hold sway over the numerous poor in Brazil’s northeast up to his death in 1934, and his popularity continues today.
In spite of his popularity, the Vatican has refused to consider Padre Cícero for canonization, despite the clamor of millions of Brazilians. Why it has failed to do so is unclear; Padre Cícero was certainly not a firebrand or a radical in his vision of the world, and Brazil is far and away the largest Catholic country in the world. While the church has failed to officially canonize Padre Cícero, Brazilians have effectively made him a “popular saint.” Indeed, in spite of the Vatican’s obstinacy, the dissident Brazilian Catholic Apostolic Church canonized Padre Cícero. Every year in November, thousands of Brazilians still regularly trek to Juazeiro to pay homage to the man they consider a true Brazilian saint.

Brazilian faithful gather in Juazeiro to pay homage to Padre Cicero.

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About Colin M. Snider

I have a Ph.D. in history, specializing in Latin American History and Comparative Indigenous History. My dissertation focused on Brazil. Beyond Latin America generally, I'm particularly interested in class identities, military politics, human rights, labor, education, music, and nation. I can be found on Twitter at @ColinMSnider.
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