Stories began to surface about a strange holy man with incredible healing powers living on the streets in one of the poorest slums of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Being a well-to-do freelance journalist with several high profile magazines at my beck and call lent me wherewithal to travel anywhere in the world. Rio was beautiful, from what I’d been told, and even if the story didn’t pan out, as I expected it not to, I could call it a working vacation and drum up some sort of story.
We were in the middle of a slow news cycle in the States anyway. The President had just been sworn in for his second term, the economy was slowly inching back to life, and everyone was sick of reading about the dreadful wars we just couldn’t pull ourselves out of, as a country. I had made a living of putting myself in harm’s way to tell stories of our soldiers risking their lives to fight ambiguous enemies who seemed to increase three fold for with every new death count. To be honest, I was sick and tired of it. I wanted to do a feel good story. No, I needed to do a feel good story, just to keep my sanity.
Sure, I had become semi-infamous for writing stories which put me right in the middle of most dangerous military zones in the world. Bombs exploding nearby, bullets whizzing overhead, innocent people massacred in the name of gods who supposedly demanded peace from their followers. Nothing could be further from that truth! Still, that was how I made my living. Magazine editors couldn’t get enough of it. It was what their readers demanded, and I was damned good at it.
It was simply time I branched out. If I was to grow as a writer, and as a person, I needed a different angle. I had won numerous awards, had gained quite a bit of coin and my fair share of notoriety by using my cutting edge storytelling skills to put readers right in the heart of some of the darkest battles of our times. Sure, anyone with a remote control and cable access could watch people getting killed whenever they wanted on any of the slew of twenty-four hour news networks. But I was telling the stories in compelling ways, painting pictures of unsung heroes with words that drew readers ever deeper and tugged at their hearts. My modern take on Hemingway-esque writing skills are why I am the best at what I do. My own burnt out emotions was also why I had to get away from that scene.
For some, Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome is the effect caused from being a daily target of ruthless killers on a mission of carnage in the name of their god. For others, callousness sets in, making it difficult, if not impossible, to have any feelings at all for those killed or wounded. My experiences had led me to slowly become a jaded member of the later.
When I first started reporting wars, full of piss, vinegar and boundless ambition, I poured my heart into every story. Every young American I wrote about, who went home mutilated from sniper bullets or terrorist’s homemade bombs, took a little piece of my heart with them, in the form of my reporting. After several years of this, I had become nothing more than a heartless vulture. I travelled through endless war zones looking for the most gruesome stories I could encounter, to interview the young lads like I truly cared for them, wrote what the editors drooled over and paid huge sums of cash for, then forgot about the real life characters of the story like they were nothing more than bit actors on some cable television drama.
The names and faces changed daily but the results were always the same. I never had to see these young victims again, I never followed up on them and couldn’t care less how much they struggled to regain their old lives back in our homeland. I had become a pathetic, cynical jerk, and was getting paid king’s ransoms for doing so!
Editors and readers alike loved me. How caring I was for putting my life on the line to tell their courageous stories! How daring I was to face life and death situations in order to tell a personal side of war that wasn’t being told in this kind of dramatic fashion by anyone else, anywhere in the world. To them, I was a one of a kind; a once in a lifetime hero, whose only weapons were a keyboard and an internet connection. But I knew I was nothing more than a fake!
Yes, there were times, many times, that I wished I was one of the wounded or killed. How would my colleagues and contemporaries tell my story? I was sure they would give me an immortal legacy along the lines of Ernie Pyle, the legendary WWII reporter, who was killed in the line of duty, and still fondly remembered today, several decades after that Great War. How many soldiers could you name who were killed in that war? Unless a family member or friend, I strongly doubt you could even name one, besides Pyle or Patton! Along with weary callousness, I had gained a death wish! And not just any death wish; I wanted to be immortalized. That all changed when my death almost happened.
My epitaph would have probably read something like this: America’s voice of the voiceless, the man who bravely put himself in the face of grave danger in order to tell the true tales of unsung Americans who fought for freedoms most of us take for granted, was killed in the line of duty, doing what he loved most. Once again, nothing could be further from the truth. I hated my job!
On the fateful day everything changed for me, I was interviewing a young man who rooted out bombs placed just under the surface of roads, so his fellow troops could move closer to engaging the enemy. He was the true hero, not me. After a brief interview, in which I asked deeply personal questions about his home life and about how he managed to have the nerves of steel necessary to do his job, I went with him on a mission.
Sadly, in my heart of hearts, I was hoping he failed in his job that day. I secretly wanted him to be blown to bits so I could write another heart wrenching story about how America needlessly lost another young man who had so much to offer society but would never have the chance.
As he went about his job, I cowardly walked behind several other soldiers, who all kept their distance from this soldier, who could only be described as he bravest of the brave. On this day, however, this highly skilled warrior did fail in his job. He missed a buried bomb and it was stepped on by one of the young soldiers following him.
The bomb exploded with angry wrath, taking the young man who stepped on its life, and mutilating three others who were walking with him. The force of the explosion sent me flying through the air like a rag doll. Knocked unconscious, I awoke several minutes later to find a group of medics carrying me from the scene of the carnage to a waiting helicopter. Pain ripped through my nervous system, as I was burnt severely on my face, hands and torso. I raised my head to look at my body to see if any limbs were missing. Fortunately, my body was burnt, bruised and broken, but in one piece. I could see the lips of one of the medics frantically yelling at me to lay back and remain calm, but I couldn’t hear a damned thing. The explosion had temporarily robbed me of my hearing. Again, I was fortunate. I didn’t have to hear the harrowing screams of the other young men who had been maimed by the bomb.
As the medics loaded me onto the chopper, I once again tried to raise my head to take a final glimpse of the horrid scene of war. The medic gently pushed my head back down and I accepted my fate for what it was, yielded to the pain searing through my brain and passed out.
I next awoke after military surgeons performed skin graft procedures on the most severely burnt parts of my body. The recovery was long and torturous. The next several days was an exercise in determination and will power, both of which I was severely lacking. Then the single thing that would most change my life most, up to that point, happened. I was paid a visit by the kid who searched for bombs and the three other soldiers who were maimed by the explosion.
They all wept and told me how sorry they were for allowing me to get hurt. Two of the injured men had lost limbs in the attack, and they still told me they would have gladly given their lives to spare me from the injuries I suffered. The poor soldier who had failed to find the bomb in the first place was most affected. He was so emotional scarred that he was shook relentlessly.
To these young men, I was a hero. I was their voice to their loved ones; the one man they could trust to tell their stories in such a way that they never felt taken advantage of. Little did they know, I was nothing more than a gutless bastard who sensationalized their life or death struggles for the sake of my own greedy ambition. I had never felt guiltier in all my life. I wept with them and told them I forgave them. They had done nothing wrong, but would still carry the guilt over what happened to me for the rest of their mortal lives. It was the least I could do, but in truth, I was the one who should’ve been asking forgiveness.
I deserved what had happened to me, but could not tell them the truth. I couldn’t let them down, couldn’t take away the last shred of hope left in this never-ending world of sorrow. I didn’t know if I could ever be the man they believed I was. I made up my mind that day to never again use their pain and suffering to further my own career. But even then, I knew I would never be able to forgive myself.
After my initial recovery, I was sent home to finish the healing process with my own personal doctors. That was no big deal. I could afford the best. But the internal wounds were not going to be healed so quickly or easily as my flesh wounds. I was a basket case, and I knew it. So, I did the only thing I knew to do; I climbed inside a whiskey bottle and stayed there for a long time.
Sure, I had been advised to seek counseling, but talking about my own problems was not my cup of tea. I avoided that at all costs. What I really wanted was to forget. The images I had seen on the battlefield were easy enough to make disappear. Gruesome as they were, I had simply seen too many to constantly dwell on just one. But the guilt of how I felt, in stark contrast to how the soldiers felt about me, was eating me alive. There was nothing I could ever do to change what I had become. No way I could make it up to those kids, who themselves were guilt-ridden because I got hurt. “Chalk it up to the dogs of war,” I would tell myself. If only it were that easy!
I spent a lot of time soul searching, even if I was in a constant state of drunken stupor. I also spent way too much time surfing the Web, which is addicting as hell. Well, at least the porn was. I hadn’t really planned on getting addicted to porn, it just sort of happened, as I attempted to avoid presidential politics, war, news of any sort. Porn was what was left, along with sports, of course. I always was a big sports fan.
After a while, the porn got old. My soul was already warped from seeing people getting killed and mutilated, so there wasn’t much left for that demon to conquer and hold. I summarily replaced the porn with YouTube videos, which I watched them religiously. It didn’t really matter what they were about, as long as they met one criterion: they had to be strange.
Watching YouTube was kind of like going to the original PT Barnum circus. Everything was freaky as hell and totally original, at least on the surface. I saw everything from UFO’s to armed robberies gone wrong. Whatever you could possibly imagine could be found by performing a quick search. That is how I found the supposed Holy Man of Rio.
Apparently, this ‘holy man’ had come onto the scene from out of nowhere to make a big splash to the mostly impoverished folks in some of Rio’s poorest neighborhoods. More than just a kook prophesying the end of the world, or trying to save the mortal souls of sinners, this guy went about bringing healing directly to the afflicted. He didn’t discriminate. The blind, crippled, poor of heart and soul, it didn’t matter. He didn’t want money, lived on the streets like a homeless bum, but was followed relentlessly by mobs of folks desperately wishing to be healed, to see what the fuss was all about or simply to mock the man.
The man didn’t do much talking, so he wasn’t the ‘Messiah’ type. He wasn’t pushing a religious agenda, didn’t walk on water. He was just a simple homeless dude, looking for his next meal and a sheltered piece of concrete to lay his head at night. But he never turned away someone seeking healing. And it was claimed he never failed.
The blurry, homemade videos spoke for themselves. No matter what affliction the poor folks brought before him was suffering, he healed them immediately, undoubtedly and with conviction. But whenever a cameraman would attempt to corner him with questions, he would order them away. If they didn’t leave him alone, he would stop the healing, causing the crowd gathered around him to react in anger to the cameraman. That ploy always worked like a charm!
Hardly anyone outside of the slums of Rio believed in this man’s magick. Those that did either thought he was the second coming of Christ or a wizard trapped well out of his own time. Me? I thought he was a charlatan.
Fake or not, I thought he was worth checking out. My reputation as an investigative reporter in foreign lands was second to none. I had never worked on camera before but I instinctively knew that if anyone could get this strange urban shaman to speak on film, it was me. The question was, what could I gain from covering such a story? If he was real, I was thinking Pulitzer Prize. If he was a fake, then I would just have one hell of a vacation to enjoy and forget about all the stress and guilt that had been nagging me relentlessly. It was a win-win situation.
I hired a friend who was a cameraman and we left immediately. When we arrived in Rio, it was like walking into paradise. The beautiful weather made me almost not want to do the story. It seemed like it would be so much more fun to just hang out at the beach during the day and get drunk at one or more of the many and varied nightclubs located within walking distance of our hotel. But something stirred deep within me, compelling me to see this miracle man. So, instead of playing tourists, we went to the hotel, ordered room service and crashed early, because we were determined to get to this man as soon as we could, before someone else stole my scoop, and my big opportunity to move from print to the television screen.
We woke early the next morning, got some breakfast and called at cab. When we told the taxi driver our destination, he looked at us in astonishment. “You guys don’t want to go there,” he said, cautiously. “It is a very dangerous place, especially for tourists. There is lots of gang activity. If you’re looking for drugs or prostitutes, I would suggest any of the nightclubs here in the uptown section.”
“Thank you, sir,” I replied, “but we are not looking for drugs or prostitutes. And we are sure this is the neighborhood we wish to see. We are journalists, and there is a great story there that needs telling.”
“Very well, my friend,” the driver smiled knowingly. “Just don’t get yourself killed. Also, you will have to pay in advance. I wouldn’t want to exchange any cash there. And I will not wait for you.”
With that, the driver took us to our destination. His warning made us take notice, but did not scare us from our goal, which was to prove or disprove the existence of Rio’s Holy Man. We were well aware of the dangers before we even left, having researched the locale well. We left most of our valuables in the hotel safe deposit box and only took with us enough money for cab fare there and back, for lunch and for tipping those kind enough to show us where to find the holy man.
Though we were well prepared, all the research in the world couldn’t have readied us for what we encountered in the slums of Rio. It made Detroit look like Beverly Hills. Fresh water was scarce, unsanitary conditions were the norm, and near starvation seemed common place. The cab driver was right about the gang activity. It was rampant, even in broad daylight. I felt like a target right away. We started walking, not really knowing where we were going, and we could both feel evil eyes upon us.
Not wanting to get involved with bad guys at all, but definitely needing a guide, we chose to ask a boy to help us. He was very eager, especially after we handed him twenty dollars. He was a very fast walker and an even faster talker. When we told him we were looking for the holy man, he never shut up, telling us story after story about the miracles he’d personally seen. We didn’t mind, as long as he took us to where we wanted to go, and before long, we saw a huge crowd gathered around a fire, which was burning within an old oil barrel, in an empty, overgrown lot.
We gave the boy another twenty and he ran off, making sure to avoid the suspicious gang of young adults which still followed us. My cameraman started turning on his gear while I disappeared into the throng to see if I could get a glimpse of the man who was causing all this fuss. He wasn’t very impressive looking. He had long, unkempt hair, a stringy beard, and wore unwashed, raggedy clothes and worn out shoes. In other words, he looked just as impoverished as many of those who followed him.
On the surface, the man looked like a vagrant. There was nothing unusual or special about him. But one look at his face revealed more about him than any video could have ever shown. His eyes and smile literally glowed with quiet power and calm confidence, which belied the fact that he lived in the kind of extreme poverty which would break most any normal man.
He sat on a broken cinder block with a crippled little girl on his lap. The child gleamed right along with the miracle man, showing an ease of character that also belied the fact that the child was most likely in extreme pain. The man was very soft spoken, as he soothed the child with words that I couldn’t make out, even though I stood only a few feet in front of him. The child gave the man a hug and then stood up as if to leave. It reminded me very much of a department store Santa, except that this child wouldn’t have to wait for her present.
The man took the girls arm, which looked twisted and mangled, beyond the repair of even the most skilled surgeon, and stretched it out, studying it carefully. He then began stroking it, paying extra attention the most damaged, twisted part, and started whispering a chant. His eyes began to glow as if on fire, which was something I never noticed on the videos I watched. The girl moaned softly as if her pain were slowly vanishing, replaced by utopian pleasure. Then the man stopped, his eyes returned to normal, and he lifted the girl’s arm up for everyone to see. To my amazement, and everyone else’s, the girl’s arm was completely healed; straight as an arrow, just like any other kid.
The little girl ran to her mother, who lifted her up in a huge bear hug, while everyone else in the small, but orderly mob, gasped, then started dancing and chanting in delight at the unbelievable phenomenon they just witnessed. I have to admit, my heartstrings were tugged as well. The saintly incident brought tears to my eyes, as my mind struggled to accept and understand what my eyes had just witnessed. The miracle was simply too good to be true, causing suspicion and doubt to automatically arise, deep within my jaded psyche.
My cameraman came up to me, finally ready to record. He totally missed the first miracle but saw the stunned look on my face and said, “Was it that cool?”
“It was, Chris, it was,” I replied.
“He healed a little girl’s mangled arm.”
“Was it real?”
“I don’t know. It sure looked real.”
“Do you think he will do another one?”
“I don’t know…maybe, I sure hope so.”
“You know the master doesn’t like modern technology,” a voice of a frail woman spoke to us.
“We are sorry,” I replied. “We mean no harm, though. We just think the world needs to hear his story. My name is Shawn Butterfield. I am a print reporter. I seldom do video reports, but this story is just too special. It needs to be properly told!”
“I agree, but master is totally against it. You aren’t the first to try.”
“What is your name, ma’am?”
“Maria, Maria Gonzalez.”
“How long have you known master?”
“My entire life.”
“What is your relationship with him?”
“Close, very close. I am his everything; his wife, his confidant, his disciple.”
“Well, then you are definitely the right person to talk to, Maria. Thank you. Would you mind appearing on camera?”
“I would be glad to.”
“What is your master’s name?” I asked after motioning for Chris to get his camera rolling.
“His name is Jesus Gonzalez.”
“Isn’t it ironic that his name is spelled the same as Christianity’s God?”
“I don’t see the connection. Their names are spelled the same, but are pronounced differently. And to be honest, the Jewish and Christian messiah’s name is actually Yeshua.”
“Is Jesus the second coming of the messiah?”
“No, he doesn’t claim to be.”
“What does he claim to be?”
“Jesus is a healer.”
“What is his agenda? What are his intentions, his aspirations?”
“What inspires him? Surely there must be some sort of inspiration. Is it political, religious, monetary? Does he serve some secret agenda?”
“He is inspired to heal the sick and afflicted.”
“Come on, now, there has to be more?”
“I am sorry to disappoint, but my master has no hidden agenda. He was sent to this Earth only to heal. That is all. He has no political or religious aspirations. He is pure of heart, soul, and spirit.”
“Is he religious?
“To what religion does he subscribe?”
“There is but one God. He is known by many names, but what is a name? It is nothing, nothing more than something to fight for. The master doesn’t believe in fighting. He is peaceful.”
“Does he take money?”
“He isn’t interested in money. Money was invented by humans. He is only concerned with what comes from God.”
“How does he survive without money?”
“God sustains us.”
“What does that mean?”
“The master owns nothing. Nor do any of his disciples. We therefore have no bills and no needs that can’t be fulfilled by his search for religious enlightenment.”
“How do you eat? Does he feed the masses with miraculous feasts like the Christ did with fishes and loaves?”
“He does not. Nourishment is given to us by followers. He never asks for it. It is simply given. We never take more than is needed to sustain us. He does not waste. And the people that follow him are poor. He would not take more than they could afford to give.”
“Would it be possible for us to talk to him, I mean, once he is finished with his healings?”
“Yes, he will talk to you, but not on camera. He does not seek publicity. In fact, he avoids it at all costs.”
“Would it be alright to film his healings?”
“We cannot stop you. But if you interfere or distract him, he will simply stop, or make your camera stop. Then you will have an angry mob to deal with. You wouldn’t want that, now, would you?”
“No, I don’t want to upset him or his followers. We will just linger around the edges of the crowd, filming and talking to his followers.”
“That will be fine. When he has finished, I will alert him to your request, then I will give you an answer to whether he will talk to you.”
As the day wore on, the spectacle never stopped. A constant throng of people swarmed around the slum shaman, begging for healing, ninety percent of which was for physical ailments. Occasionally, a poor soul would beg for food or water, but never once did I see or hear anyone ask for spiritual guidance or question him about his religious leanings. This surprised me.
Not that it mattered. Just watching Jesus miraculously heal afflicted person after afflicted person was impressive to say the least. ‘Ooohs’ and ‘aaahs’ filled the air, as the onlookers were amazed at his powers. The funny thing was that Jesus seemed nonchalant about it all. To him it was no big deal. He was blessed with this incredible supernatural talent of fixing things even the best doctors with the greatest technology would be befuddled by, and he sought nothing in return for his adroit efforts.
Maybe that was the lesson to be learned from this bizarre man. It wasn’t that he could draw a circus of bystanders to watch him inch closer to living sainthood, but rather that he gave the most needy of people the very thing they desired most in life: good health. And he gave these gifts freely, just as if a billionaire stood atop a skyscraper and threw away his entire life earnings to the people in the streets below. Which to me, begged the questions: ‘Was there a limit to his powers? Were his gifts indefinite? Would they ever run out?’
As the striking South American sun finally began to set, it looked like Jesus was finally ready to talk to me. And talk he did. With the camera off, he took me inside an abandoned building that he and his followers called home. Shadows flickered off the walls from oil burning lamps and candles, revealing peeling paint and holes, which only added to the rustic appeal the throwback healer presented. I didn’t even have to even ask questions, he just started talking and didn’t stop.
“You want to know why I do this. It is simple. I want to help people. I was born the bastard child of my mother and a fallen priest. I’ve had the power to heal since I was a child. I also have many other powers but eschew them all. I am only interested in helping those that cannot be helped by mainstream religion and modern medical technology. As you can plainly see, I am not interested in material things. I only own the clothes I wear. I have no money and I don’t want any. If I had any, I would give it away to the needy. I eat what is given to me. If I have more than I need, I share it with my closest followers. They do the same for me. I do not have a religious agenda. I am not out to change the world. My mantra is, ‘To each his own’. I do not have a political agenda. Governments and religions preach freedom while slowly stripping those away in the name of the common good.”
“Is it common good to have few very rich and multitudes of starving men, women and children? If I used my powers to change religion and government, I would be killed and healing would not come to those I could have otherwise helped. This has happened throughout history. Look at what has happened in the past to those who have tried to used their god-given gifts of the miraculous or teachings of peace and godliness to bring about change to the world. The Christ was killed. Gandhi was killed. Martin Luther King was killed. Joan of Arc was killed. The druids were slaughtered. Tibetan monks were slaughtered and scattered. I would be killed and forgotten just as easily.”
“Sure, you may say these men left legacies that continue to this very day. But do they really? Is what the Christ taught actually put into practice, even by those who are leaders in the religion that is in his name? Look at all the wars started over his religion; look at the massacres; look at the abuses of power in every step of the religious hierarchy. Is Christianity truly the religion of the Christ or is it the religion of Constantine? This is why I keep my gifts close to the vest. I will not promote myself. I will not allow my name or my beliefs to be taken advantage of by those who would only use them to further their own ambitions. We live in a world gone mad, and the devil is in the details. I will only change the world one heart at a time, through love and healing. I will never allow it to grow past that.”
Everything this man said stirred my heart and wreaked havoc with my consciousness. Everything I had ever done was contradictory to how this man lived his life. Whenever I had a chance to help others, I instead chose to serve my own selfish ambitions instead. My ego had driven me to seek material possessions and step on or over anyone who dared stand in my way. Tears ran unabated down my face as I thought about the stark differences between him and me. He was the closest thing to the perfect human being I’d ever met, while I was nothing more than a loathsome, greedy, self-serving bastard.
Even by interviewing Jesus, I did so only to move my career away from the bloodshed of war to a more mainstream career path. I knew I would have to leave this story untold. If I brought the legitimacy of my reporting of his miraculous healings and anti-establishment stance, I would only bring the type of attention to him that he worked so hard to avoid.
I reached into my shirt and ripped the taped, hidden microphone, which was secretly recording our conversation, and placed them at his feet. He smiled, knowingly. I fell to my knees, bowed deeply in front of the holy man and begged him to forgive me and heal me from my own wicked greed and ambition.
“My son,” he whispered calm words of wisdom, “forgiveness can only come from within. You have not wronged me at all. Your recording is blank anyways, I mentally disabled it. As far as healing you, I cannot. You have no physical ailment which I can drive out. But, you have already healed yourself by seeing the error of your ways. The wounds of your own thoughts and actions will always be there, but the healing process can be a beautiful thing, if you put the needs and care of others before your own needs and care. You have witnessed my example. Will you change your heart?”
“I will, I swear it, master,” I wept.
“Now you have learned my agenda,” he touched me, sending powerful waves of healing love through my psyche. “Spread my example to everyone you meet and serve those who have nothing to offer you.”
With that, I learned the most valuable lesson of my life. I continued in my career, with no grand ambitions, mind you, and my career blossomed to greater heights than I ever imagined. I lost the unbridled competiveness which had driven my entire life, and I blossomed on a personal level; becoming a kind, unassuming man, who never thought himself better or more righteous than anyone else. I sold possessions I didn’t need and gave the proceeds directly to the poor on the streets, like Jesus, avoiding corrupt religions and charities.
As for Jesus, the Holy Man of Rio, I never really heard about him again. No one ever got him to do a television interview and the YouTube videos slowed and finally stopped altogether. I would like to think he continues to heal, and fulfill his purpose on this Earth, but I’ve always heard the hottest flames burn out the quickest. All I know for sure is, thanks to Jesus, I finally found peace in my life, where there had previously only been emotional warfare between my own warped sense of good and evil. At long last, I was truly happy.
Paul DeThroe’s The Holy Man © 2013