Candace Slater, Professor

Closed (2) Journeys to Juazeiro: Shifting Legacies of a Brazilian Pilgrimage in the Time of the Coronavirus

Applications for fall 2021 are now closed for this project.

This book project describes key changes in a decidedly unusual pilgrimage of some two and a half million people who make their way across the arid Northeastern backlands each year to the greener earth of Juazeiro. However, my true subject is a number of much larger transformations in Brazil and in the lives of the Brazilian poor both over time and now in the disastrous days of the Far-Right Bolsonaro government and the Coronavirus.

Juazeiro and the pilgrimage are noteworthy in their own right thanks to environmental and religious factors that came together in an apparent miracle that led persons from all over the Northeast to make their way to the then-hamlet in 1889. Even today, much of the scholarly bibliography on Juazeiro continues to dwell upon the folk saint Padre Cícero (1844-1934) and the Black beata Maria de Araujo—both polemical figures whom the Catholic Church did its best to silence because of their centrality to what it saw as an unwelcome event. The city and the pilgrimage nonetheless kept on growing and is a major backlands urban center today.

My initial plan for the book had been to focus it on changes in the pilgrimage. These would be set against a backdrop of the larger rise and fall of the leftist Workers’ party that governed Brazil from 2003 to 2016. However, the strong reactions of both pilgrims and non-pilgrims to the Right-wing government of Jair Bolsonaro that assumed power at the beginning of 2019 gave me no choice but to return to Brazil to see things for myself. My month-long stay in Juazeiro during that year’s September pilgrimage would turn out to preface the onslaught of the Coronavirus some four or five months later. Both of these developments have pushed me to conclude the book with a description of the pandemic’s influence upon poorer Brazilians in light of the government’s refusal to take the virus seriously.

Today, the massive concrete statue of Padre Cícero that stands atop Juazeiro’s ancient granite summit wears a large blue polyester face mask. The cloth was stitched together by a group of Afro-Brazilian women who regularly honor the Catholic priest alongside other deities. While the mask in question underscores the difficulties of the present, the idea of Padre Cícero as ongoing defender of the needy is nothing new. Indeed, this idea of continuing protection remains at the center of the shifting legacy that the book examines— suffering and anger at longstanding injustice mingled with ongoing hope that offers courage and resilience if not necessarily much-desired immunity.


This is an unusual opportunity for students to learn about doing research in the present and viewing history as it is being made. I am looking for apprentices with a passion for the living voices I am taping who can help with the transcription of interviews as well as the search for relevant articles and books.

Qualifications: The undergraduate research apprentice or apprentices should have good computer skills, an ability to work in a small group, and a willingness to hunt down articles and books about the present as well as questions relating to the refashioning of cultural legacies in a moment of intense change.

Weekly Hours: to be negotiated

Off-Campus Research Site: remote