On the 6th of March, 1889, this man, Father Cicero Romão Batista, a priest in the small town of Tabuleiro Grande, in Brazil's northeastern State of Ceará, was administering the sacrament to his parishioners.
As he inserted the host into the mouth of a religious sister by the name of Maria de Araújo the wafer was instantly transformed into blood.
Or so the story goes.
Back in those days, Tabuleiro Grande consisted of little more than Padre Cicero’s tiny chapel, a few houses of wattle and daub, and a few of brick. Not surprisingly, the folks who lived there were anything but sophisticated. And they were convinced that they’d witnessed a miracle.
They were confirmed in that conviction when, over the course of the next two years, the transformation was seen to occur again and again.
People flocked from miles around to join Father Cicero’s congregation.
The good father, initially, was cautious. He asked people not to talk about it. But, of course, they did. And it wasn’t long before the diocese dispatched a commission to investigate. The commission included a doctor, a medical school professor and a pharmacist from far-away Rio de Janeiro.
They concluded, after witnessing the phenomenon several times, that there was no rational explanation for it.
But the Bishop, Dom Joaquim José Vieira, remained suspicious. He dispatched a second commission led by two priests. And, this time, he got the judgment he’d been hoping for. The miracle was declared false. His priests weren’t exactly sure how the trickery had been done, but they had no doubt it was trickery.
The Bishop promptly forbid Cicero to administer the sacrament.
By that time, though, people had more faith in what they’d witnessed than in the findings of the commission.
And Cicero refused to be bullied.
In defiance of the Bishop, he continued to preach, continued to celebrate mass.
His flock continued to grow and continued to support him financially.
He bought houses, and land and cattle.
He became a social and political leader as well as a religious one.
He journeyed to Rome and got Dom Joaquim’s proscription reversed by Pope Leo XIII.
The Bishop struck back.
He managed to reinstate the prohibition, even managed to have Cicero excommunicated.
But that, too, had little effect in Tabuleiro Grande.
Cicero’s fame continued to grow.
He became a power throughout the region.
In 1911, he managed to have his little village split-off from Crato, the municipality of which it was a part. The new town became known as Juazeiro do Norte, and Cicero ruled it as a virtual fiefdom.
He died in 1934 at the age of 90.
And maybe it was a good thing for Dom Joaquim that he’d gone to his reward 17 years earlier.
Because the Bishop wouldn’t have been at all pleased at what happened next.
Cicero became even more famous in death than he had in life.
In 1969, he was honored with the erection of a statue 27 meters high. It has become one of the most famous icons of Brazil’s northeast.
In 1977 he was canonized by the Brazilian Catholic Church (not to be confused with the Roman Catholic Church.)
In 2000, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Crato, Dom Joaquim’s distant successor, Dom Fernando Panico, embarked on a campaign to rehabilitate Cicero at the Vatican.
In 2001, Cicero was voted Ceará’s Citizen of the Century.
And in 2010, more than 2.5 million pilgrims flocked to Juazeiro do Norte to visit his tomb.
Leighton - Monday