by US Dominican
By Richard Dowden LAST IA ELK there %,‘ as a healing session in Birmingham. "I he city itself could do with some healing. At 7 in the evening it lies like a bomb-blast victim, some standard features lavishly rebuilt, other parts pitted. torn and barren.
The bus wound its way like an ambulance through shopping areas along houseless streets and past tower blocks. I found St Dunstan's, Kings Heath: it lies at
the end of a ad .ith• in a part of the city which hasn't been hit yet. A loudspeaker outside the church blared out the singing within to the empty windows and shut-up shops.
Inside the church was packed: stewards moved about signalling people to come forward to an empty scat, finding an extra chair for an old lady. The aisles were lined with wheelchairs -the young, the old and. most shocking. the early middle-aged.
Everyone — and it isn't common to hear a whole Catholic congregation singing unfalteringly together — was in full voice. They all knew the hypnotic toy hymns of renewal — words and tunes.
Sometimes some people held their hands above them, palms outwards. In the fan-shaped church people could spot a familiar face on the other side, and those in the balcony above would wave down to a fact in the rows below.
Fr Paddy Mitchell gave everyone the welcome "Praise be to the Lord Jesus Christ" and everyone shouted back "Now and for evermore". He introduced Fr Francis MacNutt, the high priest of the healing ministry, who is an American Dominican. He is tall, with the looks of a film actor.
He chatted casually about Jesus and healing. Jesus was concerned with bodies as well as souls. he explained. He didn't lkithhOld this gift to himself but commanded his disciples to go out and heal people.
He said that after a sick person had been prayed over something usually happened — sometimes something quite dramatic and inexplicable, sometimes just a lessening of pain and relief.
With sonic people nothing happened. but if he was prepared to risk it in front of such a large gathering others should be ready to risk it in the privacy of their own homes. "It's free, it'll cost you nothing." said Fr MacNutt.
Then he explained that certain evils made healing more difficult, Those who have been playing around with spiritualism. ouija boards, Tarot cards, and so forth (does that include "Your Stars" in the daily Mirror every day? I wondered).
Broken relationships with family or friends and drink or drug dependency were other factors which were obstacles to healing. said Fr MacNutt. Ile then "exorcised the meeting," freeing everyone from these evils.
Then he called for a sick person to come to the altar. An elderly lady called Clare who walked with great difficulty with two sticks was brought up. She explained to Fr MacNutt, and he, one hand on her and the other clutching a microphone, told everyone that she had a steel brace in her back and had great pain in her legs and the lower part of her spine.
Then he and the other priests laid their hands on her and began to pray. They prayed quite explicitly for her vertebrae, her ligamentes, cartilage and bones, asking Jesus to heal them and make them grow again. After a few minutes she said she felt a little better though the pain was still there.
Then everyone was invited to find someone nearby who was sick: the distinction between sick and whole wasn't really necessary, I thought, but the old lady next to me whispered that her knees were very bad so the people around her held her arms and hands and legs and we prayed for her. Her doctor had told her to come to the meeting, she said.
It was her daughter who was really sick, she explained. "I don't often cry." she said. But when I get home I will cry about this. I don't know who you are and I'll never meet you again so thank you, thank you."
In front of us a young family of five sat on the floor and embraced their little girl. A murmur of intense prayer hummed around the church.
Every so often Fr MacNutt would give us the latest report on Clare. who was feeling much better. "Wouldn't it be wonderful to have a miracle?" said the old lady next to me with a giggle. If she just got up and walked away now."
Fr MacNutt explained that in some cases people went into a faint when they were prayed over and everyone should make sure that no one hurt themselves: but this was quite a normal thing to happen.
I don't know' if there were any miracles. Enough people have testified to the remarkable healing powers of Fr MacNutt and would not have been surprised if in a matter-of-fact wa.sy someone's rheumatism was better or even a cancer had slowed down.
I had to get back to London, back through those soulless. homeless streets on the bus.