Today was a sad day for a couple reasons. First of all, it was sad because we left Crato today, my home for the last five weeks. It only took five weeks for me to become fairly involved in several ministries and begin to develop many friendships with both Americans and Brazilians. But the next phase of our ministry requires us to move to Petrolina, so we started in that direction today.
The other reason it was sad was more of an eternal reason, and I will explain in a moment why.
I woke up around 7:00, did my devotions and got ready for the morning, and then I went to the kitchen where Aunt Julie prepared me a tapioca with my favorite ingredients of carne de sol, cheese, tomato, and onion. Danae and Destiny had gone to Crato with Uncles Jim and Doug, and they showed up around the time William and I finished eating.
Our next activity was something I had been anticipating for a long time. We were going to go see the statue of Padre Cicero on the mountain overlooking Juazeiro. Padre Cicero was a man who came to Juazeiro when it was only a small village and started a church there. He won the people over with many acts of humanitarian goodness, and since his death, he has become a highly-revered Brazilian saint.
The main road that connects Juazeiro and Crato is named after him, and images of him can be seen along the road and all throughout Juazeiro. He has become an idol, a dead one, and his giant statue is a place of worship for his followers. Extremists even consider him to be God, and their “trinity” consists of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and Padre Cicero.
Today, July 20, marks the 79th anniversary of the death of Padre Cicero, and it commences one of the annual pilgrimages to this site. Busloads of religious tourists were there, eager to pray at the statue, walk around it, worship in the chapel, and give alms to the poor who gathered along the road.
We drove all the way through Juazeiro, up the moutnain, and parked along with all the buses at the top. In the parking lot, four little boys ran alongside our vehicle until we were stopped, and when we got out they asked for gifts. Uncle Jim had brought along some cookies to give to them. The pilgrims can expect to receive good favor from Padre Cicero when they show kindness to them.
Along the way up to the statue, I took pictures of all the vendors, beggars, and pilgrims that we walked past. As Uncle Jim told us, it was all a big money-making business! Rows of shops lined the road and walkways, offering all kinds of items. Some of them sold fireworks, and as we listened to them explode, we learned that pilgrims will set them off to alert Padre Cicero to their presence.
Are you kidding me? These people are SO blind! If he is God, he doesn’t need little bombs to know that people have arrived to worship him!
We got up to the statue and Uncle Jim, Danae, Destiny, William, and I walked around it, taking lots of pictures along the way. I was SO sad to see so many people ignorant of the truth! I was especially sad to see little kids in the arms of their parents. They will probably grow up believing things that are not true because they won’t know any better.
I switched my camera to the monochrome color setting (black and white) because it was the best way I could capture the emotion of the moment. This place was filled with nothing but hopelessness and twisted business tactics.
We slowly moved around the statue, and at the front, devout followers walked around Padre Cicero’s staff three times, hoping to have their wishes granted. Uncle Jim asked someone why they did it three times, and someone said that it was because they could ask for Padre Cicero to answer one request each time. Uncle Jim asked why they didn’t do it four times, and the pilgrim replied, “That would be asking too much of him” (or something along those lines).
Next we moved to his house where people were singing and taking part in communion as we walked through the chapel area. In one room people drank out of big pots of “holy water”, and the other rooms were filled with wooden body parts and pictures of people with gross injuries and such. Supposedly all these people were healed by Padre Cicero.
As we finished and walked back to our car, I looked at all the people selling things and I thought, God doesn’t even want to be worshiped this way! Faith in God is not a business, but so often in life, religion is a business. Christ overturned the tables in the temple because people were turning the sacred rituals into a business.
I was struck with the truth of 1 Timothy 6:10: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” It just took on a new meaning for me as I watched money destroy the lives of so many people.
Back at the Leonard household we ate hot ham and cheese sandwiches, chips, and caju juice. Lunch was fairly quick, and right after lunch I had to pack up all my stuff for the next week and throw it all in a bag. I got most of my stuff in my bag, but of course I had lots of accessories like my violin, handsaw, camera bag, water bottle, and books to read. I looked like a girl with all the stuff I was bringing along.
That afternoon we only traveled a couple hours away, arriving at Exu. We stopped at the home of a pastor and his wife, and William, Danae, Destiny, and I moved into their home to stay for a couple nights. After unloading our stuff, we went to a local museum in honor of Luis Gonzaga, a famous musician in Brazil’s history.
Gonzaga is known for his accordion playing, and he lived in Exu at the location of the museum. So it was a really fun visit for me! We saw several different accordions, toured Gonzaga’s house, and heard a few different things about his life. The man who gave us a tour of his house (one of his close relatives) even took us to a room in the house that people normally don’t get to see (Gonzaga’s gun room).
Brazil is currently celebrating the 100th year anniversary of the birth of Gonzaga. I really wanted to play one of the accordions that was on display! But looking at everything was good enough I suppose.
That evening we left the girls at the pastor’s home with his wife, and the guys walked with the pastor to his church property a couple minutes away. The men of the church were having a churrasco, and we were invited to join them and eat with them. Uncle Doug also gave me the opportunity to deliver a devotional Bible study.
So I spoke about the body of Christ from Romans 12, and William translated for me, his first translation experience. It was the second translator I’ve broken in this summer! That’s a privilege for me. I really wanted to challenge the men to be leaders and work hard to serve the local church since they are the key to building a strong foundation as it gets started.
We ate rice, vegetables, churrasco, and lots of pop…Coke, and three different varieties of guarana. We had just finished our first round of churrasco (mainly beef and chicken) when the guys decided we needed more meat, so a couple guys went to get some linguica (sausage)! But we still had lots of beef and chicken left on the barbecue. So we basically kept eating more and more meat, and oh, it was so good!
Back at the pastor’s house worked on putting together an order of service for the next day, complete with music, testimonies, and a sermon from me. We mostly figured out what to do, and I basically made the final decision on arranging the program into a unified theme. So off to bed it was with a huge day looming.
It had started out as a sad day, but it ended on an exciting note because ministry has a way of bringing about happiness. We are sure getting our fill of ministry right now!