Beliefnet
BERGEN OP ZOOM, Netherlands, Dec. 29 (AP) - The blue-robed faith healer spread her arms over the operating tables and told the patients that white phantoms using invisible surgical equipment were healing them.

``Do you feel them? Do you feel those hands at work inside you?'' she asked the dozen patients on stage in this southern Dutch town as TV cameras rolled and an audience looked on.

The 52-year-old former ballet dancer, who goes by the name of Jomanda, is one of a host of healers, New Age and other, who are using radio and television and making inroads into Holland's deeply Calvinist society.

While church affiliation has plummeted to a record low of 25 percent, a recent study by the state-supported Social Cultural Planning Bureau found that belief in the supernatural has grown, especially among the young. It said more than half of respondents born after 1960 believe in miracles, an afterlife and heaven and hell.

Although faith healers are nothing new to Europe, the decline of mainstream religions and the rise of deregulated, commercial broadcasting have made Holland fertile ground for people like Jomanda.

Wouter Hanegraaff, a lecturer at Amsterdam's Protestant-based Free University, says the establishment Roman Catholic and Reformed Protestant churches are losing adherents because they ``are focusing too much on doctrine and politically correct beliefs.''

``People react much more strongly to symbols and rituals, if these provide a context which gives a deeper meaning to what may seem meaningless in human life, such as suffering and illness,'' he said in an interview.

Jomanda uses traditional Christian symbolism to strong effect.

She strikes a crucifixion pose, wearing attire designed to evoke the Virgin Mary. Believers line up for blessings and a splash of blessed water.

Her most famous symbol is ``beamed water'' - tap water to which she ostensibly imparts healing properties. She claims people can get its benefits simply by staying home and placing a glass of water in front of a television or radio during her program.

``People tell me I am filling a gap left open by the churches,'' Jomanda said in an interview in her dressing room before the show. ``It's true in part. People need a place where they can accept and be comfortable with themselves.''

Born Johanna Damman into a Roman Catholic family, she says she discovered her powers when she was in her 30s and her dancing career had failed. A fellow ballerina injured her back but was able to dance again after Jomanda touched the injured place, she says.

Peter van Zoest, spokesman for the Roman Catholic Bishop's Conference, said the churches see Jomanda less as a threat than as a challenge to renew their own message.

``She uses the churches' symbols. They may not like it, but she's not really offending anyone,'' he said.

Van Zoest noted that mainstream Dutch churches are incorporating elements of alternative spirituality, such as Eastern meditation techniques and flower rituals, into their own worship.

Gerrit LeRoy, a Belgian electrical technician who was paralyzed in a 1987 car accident, says Jomanda turned his life around. Even though his condition has barely changed since he started coming to her sessions in a wheelchair nine years ago, he has learned to live with his handicap.

``I'm more relaxed,'' he said in an interview. ``Gradually I've learned to accept my physical reality and be satisfied with what I have.''

Ewald Vervaet, a well known psychologist, says he investigated 40 purported cases of cured illnesses and could verify none.

Still, devotees keep coming by the thousands to Jomanda's shows, at $6 a head. Although she didn't solicit contributions during a recent show, brochures at the door advertised a ``sun, sea and healing'' package vacation with Jomanda to the Caribbean island of Curacao.

Sociologist Jos Becker thinks Jomanda's fans turn to her because they find modern medicine too impersonal.

``With Jomanda, you get personal attention,'' he said. ``Your emotions are addressed. You are listened to.''

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