saint ignatius
Saint Ignatius. See more photos
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If you spend time in Abadiânia, you will hear the phrase "the Entities" over and over again, sometimes plural and sometimes singular, and you will come to use it yourself, as if it were a completely ordinary thing to say. What it actually means, however, is so extraordinary that it defies our sense of what is logical or even possible in this world: "The healing Entities who work through John of God are the spirits of deceased doctors, surgeons, masters, and saints," Heather's Web site explains matter-of-factly. They use Medium João's body, channeling their power through him. Sometimes the spirits show up anonymously, but there are also several who make regular appearances. They include Dr. Augusto de Almeida, a surgeon and army man with a serious and efficient manner; Dr. Oswaldo Cruz, whose specialties were infectious diseases and bacteriology; Saint Francis Xavier, cofounder of the Jesuit Order, along with the Casa's patron, Saint Ignatius of Loyola, a priest and nobleman from the 16th century. Despite the presence of saints, Medium João (born a Catholic) makes it clear that the Casa is not a church but rather a spiritual hospital. "My mission has nothing to do with religion," he has said. Heather emphasized this: "To connect to the power of God, you don't have to visualize a big man with a gray beard."

In essence, it's the Entities who do the heavy lifting, who lop off the growths or reverse the scoliosis or clear away the cataracts. They are the fixers of kidneys and the soothers of arthritis, the menders of shattered psyches and broken hearts. If you show up on Heather's doorstep you are probably predisposed to believe this, although that is not required. At the Casa, skeptics are as welcome as believers. I'd already noticed that skeptics didn't tend to stay that way: Many harrumphing, empirical scientists had become impassioned John of God advocates after visiting and witnessing him in action.

At 62 Medium João is solidly built. But for all his obvious strength, the act of letting other spirits borrow his body is a demanding one. When the process begins, I read in an interview, he feels a kind of radiant heat that makes him a little dizzy. That is accompanied by, in his words, "an intense spiritual peace and an indestructible happiness." What happens at that point is easy to report but difficult to process: A couple of seconds later the ordinary man is gone, replaced by one of the Entities.

To help energetically fuel this process (and to aid their own healing), people are invited to "sit in the Current," as it is known at the Casa. The practice involves taking a seat in the rows of benches surrounding John of God's chair and meditating—hard—for hours at a stretch. In the same way the electricity that courses into a building's wiring forms a current, so does the river of benevolence coming from this concerted group. On any given day, maybe 400 people form the Current—spelunking so deeply into their interior realms that they might well be asleep or anesthetized—and while doing so they refrain from opening their eyes or crossing their arms or legs: These things, they are told, cut off the flow of energy as surely as would kinking a hose.

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