Look at his hands and they are nothing special--long, lean fingers thattaper gently from supple knuckles to manicured nails. His hands bear noremarkable scars, no memorable lines, no distinguishing marks at all that would seal them in anyone's memory for very long. They are graceful hands for a man, and he moves them in delicate arcs when he gestures, as he often does when he speaks.
But thousands of people testify that there is, in fact, something veryspecial about the pale hands of Father Richard Bain, a 58-year-oldRoman Catholic priest at Sacred Heart Church in the tiny town of Olema,Calif. Tens of thousands of people seek him out each year to receive atouch from those hands, which they believe bestow God's healing upon them.
For 15 years, Father Bain has traveled the country holding healingMasses and three-day parish missions. From his base in the Archdiocese of San Francisco, he has traveled from Vermont to Hawaii, Texas to Ohio. At his larger missions, a thousand people may show up, most of them in the hope that he can heal them or their loved ones of illness and disease.
Over the years, Father Bain has collected dozens of letters from people who believe he has helped cure them of everything from acne to cancer. A woman from Las Vegas writes that Father Bain took away pain she had after surgery. Another woman from San Bruno, Calif., said her husband was healed of an arthritic knee. A nun in San Francisco describes how, after a blessing from Father Bain, a 70 percent blockage in her cardiac artery disappeared. And Joe Illuzzi of West Hempstead, New York, writes that he and his wife, who were planning to resort to in vitro fertilization, conceived a child the usual way after Father Bain laid his hands on Mr. Illuzzi.
When asked about his gift of healing, he explains it away. "I don't think it is anything special," he says. "I think we all have this power. I prayed for these people the way I was taught to, and I really believe if anybody else did it, the same thing would happen."
After school, he started a career in business, working for a San Francisco public utility. It was the early 1970s and the sexual revolution was in high swing. The 20-something Richard Bain swung right along with it. Somewhere between the singles bars and the discos, he let go of God. "That lifestyle is completely contrary to the gospel," he says. "You can only live that lifestyle for so long before you lose your faith, and that is what happened to me." He went so far as to declare himself an atheist. "In my own mind, I couldn't conceive of God. If I could conceive of a God, he was very far away from me and didn't care about me."
So he threw himself into his work, rising very quickly to become theyoungest corporate officer at his public utility. Then one day, a female coworker invited him to come with her to a Bible study. A Catholic, she knew he had strayed from his faith and hoped to get him to return. And, hey, he admits, she was cute. "The reason I went was I was lonely," he says. "I didn't want to study the Bible. I just didn't have anything else to do that night."
Nothing monumental happened that night, but something took hold inside him. He remembers listening to the discussion and really enjoying it, and being surprised that he was enjoying it. After the meeting, he began thinking about God again. A couple of weeks later, while driving to Lake Tahoe "with a couple of girls," Richard Bain felt a very strong desire to go to confession. He and his friends stopped in Reno, and while they went to the casinos, he went to church.
But back in San Francisco, "I went back to my old ways," he says, going to bars, going home with women. Still, he continued attending the Bible study, and accompanied the group the night they decided to drop in on a gathering of charismatic Catholics at the old St. Ignatius High School, Bain's alma mater.
It was a revelation. Here were Catholic men and women--young, likehimself--singing and dancing, swept up in the spirit of worship. There were guitars and tambourines, people raising their palms to God as they sang and prayed. And quite a few people spoke in tongues. There was an ecstasy in the worship that Bain had never experienced before. "There was just so much love," he says. "I felt something I had never felt before-the feeling of love, love of the Holy Spirit, and of God's presence."