2016-07-27
On Thursday, February 10, at 10 p.m. ET, ABC's "Primetime Live" will air John of God, a special report on a Brazilian man who may be the world's most popular faith healer. Thousands have flocked to him when Western medical treatments have failed them. "Primetime Live" co-anchor John Quiñones traveled to Brazil to find out whether their incredible stories can be true. He spoke with Beliefnet about his findings.

Who is John of God?

He's a Brazilian from a very poor, modest family. At the age of 16, he learned that he had healing powers--or at least he said that people witnessed that he could, by laying on of hands, cure people of all kinds of ailments. So he started doing good for the world, he said, at that age. He says he's a simple farmer who just has this ability to cure. And he's been doing this for 45 years. About how many people travel to him each year? It's got to be tens of thousands of people. He sees them three days a week and every day we were there there were 500-600 people on line. Are the people who come mainly from Brazil and other parts of South America? They're from all over. Many Americans, Europeans, Asians, people from New Zealand. I met a women from South Africa. I think he arguably may be the most popular healer in the world. What religion does John of God belong to or preach? Not any one in particular. He incorporates all religions. He says that it's not just Catholicism, although much of Brazil is. It's not just about Catholics, it's about anyone who believes in a higher power. There are pictures of Christ and Jewish, Muslim, and Buddhist symbols.
Does he have any sort of medical training? No, not at all. He'll admit to it. I sat down with him in an interview and he said, "I'm just a simple farmer who when I look at a person and somebody is ailing, the spirits come to me and incorporate my body. They're the ones that instruct my hands to do whatever they need to do to cure someone. I can't stand the sight of blood, myself. I can't take a flu shot." And, in fact, we showed him video of what he had done and he didn't even want to look at the screen. He said, "That's not me." And I said, "How could it not be you? We just saw you do this. Cutting into people, inserting forceps in their noses." He said, "No, it's not me. It's God. It's God using me as an instrument." Or these entities--any number of [ghosts], including King Solomon believe it or not, who he says can, at any given day or any given time, instruct him what to do. We went there with a healthy dose of skepticism, certainly not believing that any man can do this sort of thing. But there's something about the prayer, the faith, the overwhelming sense of calm at that place called La Casa, house, that somehow contributes to some sort of healing. He does admit that he can't cure everyone. Not everyone who comes to him is liable to be cured. He doesn't make any false claims. He asks people not to stop taking their medication when they come to see him or to stop treatments like chemotherapy. And anyone who's very sick, he doesn't want them traveling down to Brazil because he may not be able to help them. He says that some people are ready spiritually and others are not. You also say that John of God performs "invisible" surgeries. How many of his surgeries are visible--done with instruments like scalpels-- and how many are invisible faith-type healings? Most of the surgeries are invisible. I'd say 95 percent. Just laying on of hands or praying over a person?

Praying. Actually very little touch. He spends no more than 20 or 30 seconds with each person as they come by-and again, there may be 500 in line, so you can understand why he does that. But he quickly summarizes what they need. He doesn't guess. When you're in line, you tell one of his assistants, who writes down what your ailment is. These pieces of paper are given to John of God with each person who shows up. In most cases, he'll ask the [sick people] to go to a "current" or meditation room. There are 100 other mediums who volunteer their time and pray in unison, quietly. They close their eyes and open their palms to the heavens and think positive thoughts, praying for healing of the other folks who are in another room who are also meditating. So 95 percent of the surgery-that's invisible surgery. That's what I had to do, for example. He asked that I sit somewhere for 48 hours. Because it's just the positive energy coming from the "current" room.

You had an old shoulder injury... It was a very minor rotary cuff tear that I've had for years. It's painful when I reach behind me, or sometimes at night. I went to an orthopedic surgeon in this country and took an MRI and X-rays of it, and found out that it is, indeed, a tiny little tear that the doctor said I could work out by simply going to physical therapy for a month. Compared to what some of these folks are suffering from, this was nothing. We just wanted to test him ourselves. He was told that I had a shoulder problem and when he saw me he said, "Shoulder, right?" And I said, "Yes" in Portuguese. So he grabbed it and kind of shook it and he says, "He will be better in 40 days. Go to the current room." And I went to the current room, where I stayed for a couple of days.

With other sick people? Yes, from all over the world.

Did you really just sit there doing nothing, or were you able to, say, read? No. You can't do anything. You can't even cross your arms or legs because they argue at the Casa that it interferes with the current of energy. So they wanted us all to be quiet. You can't talk and they didn't want you looking around. They wanted us to close our eyes. And so we did that for a couple of days. It's actually very soothing, very meditative...

Did you do this 8 hours for each day? Yes. And after that, the other prescription was, that for 40 days, you not eat any kind of peppers, even black pepper or green or red peppers for that matter, or spicy food, that you not drink alcohol for 40 days and that you not have sex for 40 days. It's part of the cure. I didn't abide by all of that. I'm not going to tell you which one. (Laughs) So maybe that's why my shoulder still hurts.

That's what I was going to ask-how's your shoulder right now?

There was no effect. But we also had our associate producer go. She's got sore knees from years of jogging and exercise, and when he said that she would have invisible surgery, she actually felt, within hours, like she had had surgery. Just a few minutes in fact afterward. She was exhausted. She had to lie down. She felt sick and couldn't do much for the rest of the day. She said she really felt as if she had really been through some kind of surgery even though it was invisible.

And how are her knee problems?

They got better for a little bit, but she also didn't do everything that he'd suggested she do. I think the pain in her knees is back. So it doesn't seem that the invisible surgery worked for either one of us. You followed other people who had come, primarily from America, to see him. What did you find out with them? What was most persuasive about their cases and what made you most skeptical about John of God's powers? We followed four cases very closely. One woman from California who was paralyzed from the waist down in a car accident. She has had no feelings below the waist in 20 years. We followed a man who's got an inoperable brain tumor and was told he would probably die within months two years ago. We followed a man who's got Lou Gehrig's disease who has done everything, including stem cell surgery, to try to get better. We see a woman from South Africa, Lisa, who has breast cancer. What we do is study their medical records and follow them throughout their weeks down at the Casa. We see their medical records after the fact. And you will see on the broadcast what happens with the X-rays and MRIs, whether the tumors have grown or not, what's happened to the breast cancer patient and whether this man will ever walk again. Without giving any of that away, would you say that there were a few cases that you found surprisingly persuasive?

Yes. I think you'll be amazed. There have been changes in the MRI results.

What made you most skeptical about him? Is there a question of money? He doesn't charge people for what he does. So one couldn't accuse him of trying to milk these people who are easy targets. But the fact is, the clinic does pull in something like $400,000 a year from the sale of herbs. I asked him about it. He said, people who can't afford it, he gives it to them. There are many inns around this town. It is now the biggest industry in the little town. So we wondered if he gets a cut of any of that. He says he uses everything he gets to pour back into the clinic and also has scholarship funds and supports orphanages. When I asked him in the interview whether he does this for the money, his eyes teared up and he said he was offended that anyone would say this about him. You've got to wonder whether this is possible. How can anyone be cured simply by remote control in this fashion? You have to somehow start believing that there is something about prayer and faith and mind over matter that is contributing to some sort of healing. For example, even though he cuts into people and he dips these knives and forceps into holy water, there is no infection that we can find. Here's a man who had been shaking hundreds of hands all day and then he pokes his fingers under a woman's skin, through this incision, and the incision is healed relatively easily and cleanly and no reports of infection. The folks who have the operations done have no anesthesia administered to them. We watched people very closely. Some of them have never met John of God before and there he is, cutting into them with no anesthesia and there they are telling us they hardly felt any pain.

Is he performing miracles? I can't say that. But something is going on that's pretty baffling and interesting.

more from beliefnet and our partners