Now, Religion in the News, a report and comment on religious trends and events being covered by the media. This week’s item is from Religious News Service, April 15, 2005, with the headline: “Catholic Acupuncturist and Faith Healer—St. Bernadette Catholic Church in Westlake, Ohio, began to fill up hours before a recent healing service. The room was filled disproportionally with middle-aged and older white women. There was lots of coughing and sniffling as they waited patiently, stoically accepting their own misfortune: diabetes, paralysis, cancer, back and shoulder pains, or other ills worshipers hope to be released from that night.
“Slowly the people sitting down moved forward, advancing pew by pew as hundreds of others filled the seats behind them, awaiting the opportunity to be prayed over for a minute by Dr. Issam Nemeh, a rising star of faith healing. ‘I want miracles,’ said Mary Sherman, 52, of South Euclid. The ancient hopes for spiritual healing that travel throughout all cultures in all times are penned by many of this Bay Village acupuncturist, who last year at this time was laying on hands for smaller groups at Catholic masses and healing services.
“On a recent Sunday, Nemeh’s growing popularity was again evident when thousands attended a healing Mass at his largest venue yet, the Cleveland State University Wolstein Center. As with his recent healing service at St. Bernadette, Buddhists, white and black evangelical protestants, and New Agers were among those in attendance seeking a miracle.
“Nemeh has said he sees this as just a start of something bigger, an international movement, but with the growth of these services where worshipers are told they are entering a miracle zone and are periodically pumped up with alleged medical success stories, he is treading a fine line between meeting the spiritual needs of the sick and raising expectations beyond reason.
“Within the Christian tradition, the healers themselves attribute success to God working through them via the Holy Spirit. The only healer is the Holy Spirit, Nemeh said. At the St. Bernadette service, Nemeh walked back and forth along the front of the church, praying individually over each person. In several hours he did not address the crowd nor engage in any self-promotion. There were no offerings. In keeping with Catholic Church teaching, no one encouraged any of the participants to substitute the healing service for medical care. Most of the time was spent in quiet meditative prayer, with periodic community prayer such as the rosary led by another member of the healing team.
“The emphasis in the public portion in the St. Bernadette service, however, was on the possibility that people there that night would be physically healed. ‘This is a miracle zone,’ announced Phillip Keller, a spokesman for the ministry.
“Throughout the early evening there were testimonies of miracles of tumors being cast out and of a paraplegic, who a year ago, got up out of her wheelchair and walked out of the service. ‘If God wants drama, He’s getting it tonight,’ said Keller, a radio personality better known as Trapper Jack. True to his word, Nemeh stayed through the night, praying for more than twelve hours, even as some began to arrive for the 8:00 a.m. Sunday mass at St. Bernadette.
“There was little indication how many of the thousands of people who came before him have been physically healed, but for the people who flock to these healing services who know miracles are rare but hope against hope for one in their own lives, sometimes just a few moments of peace are enough. ‘It gives you a good feeling just to come into the church,’ said Marge Sweeney, 73, of Westlake. ‘You just feel something good is going to happen, even if it doesn’t help me.’”
Tom: It’s amazing—we know, certainly in the evangelical or protestant world, particularly charismatic world, healing is an incredible draw, even promises of but often it’s not delivered and what kind of healings take place we don’t know. But the thing that amazes me is now we have a Catholic Church in combination with a Roman Catholic who is an acupuncturist, the setting is the church, along with the rosary, all of the accouterments of Roman Catholicism are there, but like the faith healers of evangelical protestant churches, they don’t deliver, or rarely.
Dave: Well, Tom, it’s a far cry from what the Bible tells us about. There has to be a reason for that. Number one, they didn’t make announcements in those days—the Book of Acts for example. Jesus didn’t have an advertising team that went ahead of Him, you know, “We’re going to have a miracle service tonight!” That’s number one. Number two, it says “He healed everyone, there was no one who came that was not healed.” He healed everyone. Now, in Nazareth, they didn’t come to Him—they were skeptics. They didn’t believe, so they weren’t healed—very few were healed there.
Of Peter, it says there was a time when they put the sick out in the streets so that Peter’s shadow would cross over them—they were healed from Peter’s shadow. They took handkerchiefs and aprons and so forth that Paul had worn and sent them around, and people were healed through them. Now that was a very unusual time in the church.
Tom: Would that be considered a technique, Dave?
Dave: Well, I wouldn’t say a shadow falling across was a technique, and a physical means—I don’t know why God honored that, but for a very short time, because it’s not physical things that have power, theydon’t have spiritual power, but that’s very unusual. So, this was an unusual time in the church. I think it was like at the very beginning for Israel: miracles—the whole thing was a miracle, from the opening of the Red Sea, to God speaking in an audible voice from Mount Sinai, the manna every day except the Sabbath, being led by a pillar of fire and a pillar of cloud, and so forth, but that didn’t last forever. Why didn’t it last forever? Because there was sin in the camp. They had to move the tabernacle outside because God said, “I will consume you if I stay inside of the camp.” You had to go out to Him.
So, if you picked up sticks on the Sabbath you were stoned. At the beginning of the church, Ananias and Sapphira—they just exaggerated a little. They pretended to have given everything when maybe they gave 90 percent, maybe they gave 50 percent—probably gave more than people today, but nevertheless, they made a false confession and they were killed. Now, people who want to see things like in Acts, the early chapters of Acts, well, do you really want that to happen as well?
So, this is serious business, when God heals. If it’s going to be a healing, God will have to do it. Now why is He going to do it? Because this acupuncturist has come and people praying, everybody wants to be healed. Ultimately, we die anyway, God has something better for us than continually healing our bodies of every disease we get. We’re going to have new bodies, resurrection bodies, glorified bodies like Christ.
So, but it seems like, Tom, rather than wanting, seeking God Himself, which we just talked about, rather than wanting to know Him and to love Him and to allow Him to reveal Himself to us, we have turned to ourselves. It used to be in the old days they wanted to know God, now we want to know ourselves—psychology we can blame for a lot of that, and we want something for ourselves and we want benefits for ourselves, so we are seeking the gifts instead of the giver, it has been aptly said, and I think we are being led astray in this. On the other hand, I have been instantly healed by God; I’ve seen others healed—I believe in this. But it’s not something that you can do by the numbers, something that you can announce a meeting and now great healings are going to come to pass because of the atmosphere, the zone you get into, that’s not the way God does it.
Tom: And certainly, saying the rosary, going to Mary with ten times more prayers than to the Lord is not the way to get a healing.