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Dr. Issam NemehIs a doctor in Cleveland doing exactly what many have said would revive the Church? Is he a true healer -- not only a medical doctor -- indeed, a physician and surgical anesthesiologist  -- but also a healer who allows God to work supernaturally through him? And has he been an agent for what are widely asserted as stunning miraculous healings?

The issue is Dr. Issam Nemeh (pronounced nay-mee), a Syrian-born Catholic whose healing services have included Masses celebrated by bishops and whose list of reputed cures is unusually lengthy as not hundreds but thousands -- and up to 10,000 -- have attended his sessions, many of which have been held in local parishes, often to overflowing crowds.

As always with the mystical, and especially with healers who lay on hands, we urge great discernment and caution. Prayer and fasting should always precede attendance at such events. Many are those who have shot to prominence on the spiritual stage, only to devolve into controversy. When there is the laying-on-of-hands, there are special concerns as regards spiritual transmission.

But rarely has there been a Catholic "faith" healer with Dr. Nemeh's credentials and support from priests and diocesan officials. Indeed, in February of 2005, Bishop Anthony M. Pilla himself [right], then head of the Cleveland diocese, celebrated a healing liturgy in conjunction with a visit by Dr. Nemeh to the campus of St. Ignatius High School. Meanwhile Bishop Roger W. Gries, who remains as an auxiliary in the diocese, concelebrated a healing service at Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Garfield Heights on March 13, 2005. Dr. Nemeh has appeared in dozens of churches, as well as other venues.

So dramatic are some of the claims that a local television station, WEWS-TV 5, presented an eleven-part report on the doctor's seemingly incredible ministry. Most recently, the details have been meticulously gathered and presented in a fascinating, quality book, Miracles Every Day, by Maura Poston Zagrans, which was recently published by Doubleday, one of the world's largest publishing companies.

Blindness. Hearing disorders. Kidney stones. Spinal problems. Scoliosis. Brain tumors. Cancer: all kinds. And --

And, well, you name it.

If a fraction of the claims are authentic (and there is no reason at this point to doubt them), it is a major healing ministry and one that presents a number of lessons to the Church in particular and society at large.

For rarely has a single person galvanized a local church community so quickly and powerfully. An estimated 30,000 saw him in the two months following the television series. Thousands have attended his services, or gone to him as private patients, since.

The details of this Cleveland doctor come at a time when many are questioning how the Roman Catholic Church can recover the many who have left and attract others in different denominations. At least some of the churches where Dr. Nemeh has appeared reported revivals, with the return of "fallen-away" Catholics. Cleveland itself is a diocese that has seen dozens of parish mergers or closings.

"I think Issam is a person who was called by Jesus, and he has said yes to that call, and he has followed Jesus," Bishop Gries has commented publicly. "He is using the gifts that God gave him to carry on the work that Jesus has given him. Some of his work is with prayers and some of it is with medicine to support the work that Jesus has called him to do. I believe in what Issam is doing. Issam Nemeh is a comrade -- a fellow worker in the vineyard."

The details of this physician -- presented engagingly in the book -- also come at a time when many are questioning the strictly mechanical manner of most doctors, urging them to adopt a more spiritual approach.

To Dr. Nemeh, the physical and spiritual aspects of illness should all be handled as a single unit. When practical medicine fails, he has noted, it is often because something is missing -- and that something is prayer.

No longer a practicing anesthesiologist, Dr, Nemeh is a general physician who employs regular medical evaluation and treatment with intensive prayer and also use of a highly unorthodox technique that bears similarities to acupuncture -- another area that many find controversial. Instead of needles, the doctor employs electric currents that hypothetically redirect certain neuronal paths and effect pain relief or healing. He told Spirit Daily he does not use the Eastern technique that relies on a mystical flow of energy called "c'hi" (or "ki"), which has been associated by some with the New Age. (While some argue that acupuncture has no occult links, others, including some former acupuncturists, have claimed that it taps into a dark force.)

Dr. Nemeh and his wife Kathy are devoted to the Blessed Virgin and the office includes Catholic icons.

The cures? Sue Sidun came to the doctor on October 3, 2005, with a large cancerous tumor on her ovary and after the treatment her surgeon said the mass was benign. Sister Monica Marie Navin, a sister of the Incarnate World and Blessed Sacrament, had a huge tumor  entwined in her facial nerve and was told by her doctors that she would need chemotherapy and urgent surgery that would leave her face looking permanently like that of a stroke victim. During treatment and prayers by Dr. Nemeh, she reported a "pop"; tests afterward showed the tumor not only had separated from the crucial facial nerve but was now benign. In another case -- typifying many others -- a man with a severely curved spine described the sensation of his back turning to "putty" and "reforming" under Dr. Nemeh's hands. Sean Andrews, a four-year-old, was born with a tumor just behind his right eye. "Dr. Nemeh pointed his finger at Sean's tumor and prayed, after which [his mother] and Sean returned to the pew," relates Zagrans. "Within five minutes Joan glanced over at her son and could not contain her joy. Ushers, volunteers, and everyone sitting nearby heard her exclaim, over and over again, 'Oh, my God! Oh, my God! It's gone! It's gone! It's gone!' The tumor had vanished without a trace."

Those healings have caused wonderment among laity and clergy alike, with Bishop Gries publicly encouraging Catholics to come to the healing services with the "anticipation God is going to touch them in whatever way God deems it appropriate" and Bishop commenting that Nemeh and his healing team have acted appropriately, forgoing sensationalism or personal rewards. "They are just doing this as part of their faith commitment and their belief that God can heal . . . and that every person can be an instrument of that healing if you want to commit yourself to it," the bishop said in a statement released by the diocese and carried in the Plain Dealer, a local newspaper.

As always, there are contrary views, including from those who have complained about $250 fees for acupuncture treatments. Dr. Nemeh's group, Path to Faith, also charges $20 a ticket for events outside of Cleveland. Dr. Nemeh says the money is needed to cover the cost of traveling with thirty helpers who assist at the services (including catching those who "sleep in the spirit"). When he is invited to local churches, however, there has been no charge, he said. The services often last until the wee hours of the morning and Dr. Nemeh's workday often stretches from nine a.m. till midnight.
For our discernment. Perhaps: for our wonder?
Reported the newspaper: "Daniel Stancu of Medina, once paralyzed, said he is a walking miracle, in part because Nemeh prayed over him. Stancu's primary-care physician agrees. Stancu, 23, said a vertebra in his neck was shattered and two others were damaged in a car accident when he was 19. He said he lost the use of his arms and legs and steered his wheelchair by puffing into a tube.
"Dr. Olga Kovacevic, who treated Stancu once before the accident, saw him after his injury on Jan. 26, 2001, just after his hospital release. 'I thought, wow. The chances of this young man ever walking again are almost none,' she said. Nemeh treated Stancu in his office with electrical device and prayer. 'Almost instantaneously, I had feeling in my arms and my legs,' Stancu said. He returned to Nemeh several dozen times for treatments over the next two years. He walks with a crutch now, and said he frequently walks in private without assistance of any kind. Can he pin his success on Nemeh's touch? 'I think he played a pretty big role in my recovery,' said Stancu. Dr. Kovacevic, however, is convinced that Stancu was healed by faith. 'God along with Dr. Nemeh restored his ability to walk,' she said.


"People are returning to church and they're all talking about it," said Father Brad Helman after a service at St. Michael's in Canton. "The impact of the healing day is far beyond my expectations."

A message to the universal Church?

And caution? Can there be unintentional deception?

We are always on the guard for that. But the initial indications are unusually powerful. Dr. Nemeh completed a general surgery residency at Fairview General Hospital in the Cleveland area, followed by a three-year residency in anesthesia at Huron Road Hospital. He practiced anesthesiology until 1992, when he veered toward less conventional techniques. He attributes all the power to the Holy Spirit, disliking the term "faith healer" (he is simply a doctor as a doctor should be, he argues: prayerful).

"When cancerous tumors vanish, vision is restored to the blind, and other dramatic changes occur in people after receiving a prayer, Dr. Nemeh's perception of these happenings is a little different from most people's," writes Zagrans. "He sees healings and miracles as 'manifestations,' by which he means they are demonstrations of God's Presence."

Healings are signs from God that are meant to teach us something, the physician-acupuncturist believes.

On that day of the ten thousand at Saints Peter and Paul Church, the healing service was scheduled for immediately after the noon Mass.

When a worker arrived at six that morning to place cones in the parking lot, he was surprised to find that people were already in the church.

"These early arrivals appeared to be willing to sit through four consecutive Masses so as not to lose their seats for the healing service," notes Zagrans. "The church filled up so quickly that by ten o'clock [two workers] began turning drivers away."

The doctor also allegedly has received apparitions. We'll review that next.

[resources: Miracles Every Day]

[Dr. Nemeh's website or e-mail]


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