Early Wednesday morning the grounds began to fill with people walking in from the street and pouring out of buses that had motored through the night from other corners of Brazil. I joined the crowd as it streamed toward the main hall, a partially open-air pavilion with a small stage up front. In the center of the stage a wooden triangle hung on the wall. Its frame was stuffed with photos and slips of paper containing names and addresses of loved ones, along with a brief description of the problems that plagued them. A crumpled sheet I found on the floor listed one man's concerns:
—Sistema sanguineo ("circulatory system")
—Pequeno cancer prostato ("a little prostate cancer")
—Sistema nervosa ("nervous system")
—Obrigado obrigado obrigado ("thank you thank you thank you")
These petitions would be gathered and taken to John of God, too, though the recipients of his help might be thousands of miles away. When it came to divine intercession, I had learned, distance wasn't an issue. The paint and stucco in the center of the triangle had worn away, leaving a burned-looking patch where countless people had pressed their foreheads against the wall to pray.
The day was brisk and bright, the kind of weather that makes bad moods impossible. After three days here, I could already sense something lifting in my mind, clouds parting. It was hard to feel anything but gratitude in the presence of so many obvious troubles; the woman with a half-shaved head, her skull cleaved by a thick scar, or the young boy whose father tended him carefully as he slumped in his wheelchair. I heard hymns being chanted in Portuguese as I entered the hall, moving up near the stage and squeezing in beside an elderly woman with her silver hair pulled smartly into a knot. She wore round wire glasses and a white crocheted sweater, and her vibe was a wise, contented one. Through a translator I learned that her name was Lucia and that she had once suffered from cancer and gastroenteritis, but after several visits to the Casa she was now fine. She had traveled from Rio Grande do Sul, a 37-hour bus ride. "I like to be here," she told me. "We have to put ourselves in God's hands. We can't think that we are going to fix ourselves."
I saw Heather make her way through the crowd and onto the stage. On days like this she was a constant presence, translating requests into Portuguese and guiding people to the proper lines. There were lines for first-time visitors, second-time visitors, those scheduled for invisible surgery, people in wheelchairs. The hall had the bustle of an airport terminal and the crushed, expectant energy of a rock concert.
Thirty minutes later, the crowd pressed forward as Medium João appeared on the little stage. He stood barefoot with a neutral look on his face, but his eyes scanned the hall with laser focus. People crossed themselves, bowed their heads, held hands. The murmur of prayer grew louder as three women in white dresses emerged from a doorway, lining up against the wall with their eyes shut. All three looked young, in their 20s or 30s. A thin orderly pushed three wheelchairs onto the stage. The chairs were rickety and had a frankly spooky look. Medium João turned to a cluster of people behind him and spoke some rapid-fire Portuguese. A woman stepped forward with a tray of metal implements. I watched as he passed his hand across his face, appearing to swoon for a moment.
From my vantage point only ten feet away, the change in his body and demeanor was easily visible. Now his eyes were more intense, and they flashed noticeably darker. His gait became stiffer, his movements more deliberate. He turned to the three women standing against the wall, took the one closest to him by the hand and gently sat her in a wheelchair. Her eyes fluttered white as she meditated. Reaching to the tray, he selected a short knife with a wooden handle, a cheap-looking type that you might use to pare an apple, and he held it up to the room, making sure that everyone saw its sharp blade. He tipped her head backward, running his hand across her face, and he opened her left eye, holding the eyelid wide. And then he began to scrape the knife across her eyeball, back and forth, with visible pressure. Unbelievably, the woman sat absolutely still, without flinching or recoiling. I had a hard time watching this, believing as I do that the words knife and eyeball should never appear in the same sentence. After what seemed like an eternity, devoid of trauma, he put down the knife. The orderly took the wheelchair and steered it into the infirmary. As she had the entire time, the woman appeared to be napping. How on Earth could a knife across your eyeball not hurt? (Later I would interview another recipient of this treatment, Connie Price, 62, from Jackson, Michigan. "There was no pain whatsoever," she said of the five-minute scraping. "I could feel the energy coming through him—I remember the heat pouring through that man's body." Price found the treatment beneficial: "I can see a lot better now.")
John of God then turned to the second woman. He held up a six-inch Kelly clamp, a metal implement that looked a lot like scissors. Moving swiftly, he tilted her head back, and then he shoved the Kelly clamp up her right nostril. I could see the force that went into it—the kind of effort you might use on someone's nose if you were cornered in an alley. "It is inconceivable she won't gush blood," I thought, watching as he finished with a hard twist of the wrist. But instead of the expected fountain of red, there was nothing but quiet. Not a drop of blood, and the woman hadn't moved a muscle. She, too, was wheeled off in relaxed silence.
The last woman had long blonde hair and wore a full-length white dress that gave her a bridal air. John of God stood beside her and addressed the audience. "If there are any doctors in the room, could they please come forward," Heather translated through the public address system; the Entity encourages traditional healers to look closely at his work. Four men elbowed through the throngs and onto the stage. John of God spoke to them privately for several minutes, explaining (I learned later) that this woman had advanced breast cancer. He turned to pick up a scalpel, and then he carefully lifted her left breast from her dress. As the crowd and the MDs looked on he cut a vertical incision, touching it with his hand. Blood streamed from her chest, staining her dress, but she stood motionless with her beautiful hair cascading around her shoulders and it was as though she weren't even there. This surgery lasted longer than the others. After he had worked on her for 15 minutes, he laid down the scalpel and picked up a needle, stitching the wound closed. She was taken from the stage and John of God followed, heading into the room where he would see everyone else.