Report from the Casa by Christopher Sheppard, August 2003
I first visited the Casa in November 1999 and made 10 visits between then and March 2002. I thank the Casa in large part for my healing from cancer (see "Healing Stories").
I visited Abadiânia again this July, after a break of some 16 months, and was really struck by the changes that are taking place, both in and around the Casa. It is fast becoming a different kind of place from the one I first visited four years ago.
I would like to report the changes that I see, without passing any judgement on them. For many foreign visitors these changes will make the Casa a more attractive - and easier - place to visit. Others will certainly have their doubts.
Many changes are reflected economically, as Abadiânia has adapted to the ever-growing number of foreigners who visit the Casa. In 1999 there was just one person bringing groups to the Casa. Now there are at least 25, with groups coming regularly from the US, Britain and Australia. In 1999 a room and three meals a day at a pousada (guesthouse) cost no more than R$20 (US$1 = R$2.7). Now it is up to R$60 at my regular pousada, with Abadiânia's first "luxury" pousada, opening this month, charging R$85 for a single and over R$100 per day for a room with a small private balcony. A taxi from Brasilia airport was R$60, now it is R$130. At the Casa, a bottle of blessed water was R$1, now it is R$2. A crystal bed session was R$10, now it costs R$20.
Although the Brazilian economy has been unstable in recent years, these price rises are not just due to inflation. They are a response to increased demand - and the power of foreign currency. They have certainly put most of these things beyond the reach of ordinary Brazilians. Most of the cooks and cleaners who work at the pousadas take home the Government minimum wage of R$60 per week (with at least six 12 hour days being the norm).
While the price increases have been gradual, more abrupt has been the rise in the number of foreigners buying land and houses in Abadiânia. There are now reported to be at least 30 who own property in the town, most of them American or British. Some, like Catarina and Robert Pellegrino (author of "The Miracle Man"), have chosen to make their home in Abadiânia; some want a house because they need to stay for many months of healing; others simply cannot resist a bargain.
Pretty much all the prime land close to the Casa has been sold and I counted 15 "For Sale" signs on the road between the highway and the Casa. Prices are reported to have quadrupled in the past year, particularly for property close to the Casa. Medium Joao has himself sold the house and small farm just beyond the cachioera (sacred waterfall) where the Casa herbs were once processed. Access to the cachoiera is now by a different route.
Earlier this year there was a plan proposed by Gary Springfield, a teacher with a centre in Sedona, Arizona, to buy from Medium Joao a large part of the valley that leads from the Casa to the cachoiera in order to build a New Age "university" of the healing arts. The plan evidently fell through following disagreements between Mr Springfield and Medium Joao, but the land is apparently still for sale.
POUSADAS, CAFES, SHOPS
There is now a construction boom in Abadiânia. As more foreigners visit the Casa, so the pousadas are growing. Most of the main ones - three of which are now foreign-owned - are building new rooms. There are now two café/juice bars, and at least half-a-dozen new shops selling clothes, books, crafts and souvenirs to foreign visitors. There are community projects too, supported mainly by the Casa's foreign visitors. Construction of the "soup kitchen" is finished, although it still need's fitting-out, and there is a plan to use donations to purchase the land now for sale between Alessandra and Ultan's café (Fruitos de Terra) and Pousada Catarinense and turn it into a public park.
The Casa itself has also responded to the growing numbers of foreigners. There are now more interpreters; more talks and prayers given in English; and every Tuesday evening there is an orientation session for newcomers.
There are also more "rules". It is forbidden for visitors to offer any kind of healing work or sessions while in Abadiânia. This includes things like Tarot readings and massage.
More complex have been the apparent consequences of the death earlier this year of an American AIDS sufferer who had been visiting the Casa. The occasional death of a foreign visitor would seem to be unavoidable. It happened on my very first visit to the Casa in 1999. A young South African man - staying in the room below me - was in the advanced stages of pancreatic cancer, had been given no hope by his doctors and had chosen to come to the Casa. Unfortunately, it was too late for him. From what I understood, he was given spiritual help at the Casa and told to go home. He chose to stay on in Brazil and died the following week in Goiania. A sad, but perhaps unavoidable death.
The Casa understandably attracts people who have been given little or no hope by doctors in their home countries. Not every one of them can be saved. And an inevitable consequence of the ever-growing numbers of foreign visitors to the Casa will be an ever-growing number of family, friends and doctors back home - some of whom may not easily understand or support their patient or loved one choosing to go to the Casa. If such a person dies - as some will - then difficult questions will be asked and legal action may well follow from grief-stricken, angry, suspicious relatives. This is evidently what happened earlier this year and has since embroiled the Casa in a battle to protect and justify itself. The family of the young American claims that he died after being told at the Casa to stop taking his medication. The Casa administration has amassed plenty of testimony to the contrary, but the matter is apparently not settled yet.
Several things have happened as a consequence. There are now very few visible surgeries performed on stage. Those that do happen are in the Entities Room and they are not being filmed. Some pousadas are getting their guests to sign indemnity forms, saying that they understand that the Casa's work is spiritual and should not replace any existing medical care (this is a policy which many group leaders already use). The entities have also spoken of their concern that Medium Joao is weary of these problems.
One remarkable side-effect of this "scandal", as it was reported in some of the Brazilian press, is a big increase in the numbers of Brazilians visiting the Casa. Medium Joao appeared on national television and the numbers have been up ever since. For the first time in my experience the Casa was packed day after day, with between 500 and 1000 people queuing patiently for several hours to see the medium.
Beyond all these changes, the daily routine of the Casa continues in essentially the same fashion as four years ago. Visitors still witness apparently "miraculous" healings and many tell of the profound benefits of their time at the Casa
But the combination of the resurgence of Brazilian interest in the Casa and the sharp increase in foreign "investment" in Abadiânia is a potent mix, which must inevitably bring more changes. Everyone I spoke to has an opinion of what they will be. Nobody knows for sure.
PLEASE NOTE: This is a personal report and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Friends of the Casa. Your comments are welcome: please post them on the MESSAGEBOARD.('Changes at the Casa' Forum)