A former victim of a syncretistic religious ceremony in Brazil warns, “The Church must be very clear about the occult influences that form the basis of many of these native practices.”
In 1968, Jane Porter, a British Catholic, was living as an undergraduate student in Brazil but after contracting an illness, she fell victim to a “false” healing carried out by an indigenous, pagan religion in a “Catholic” setting. The effects, she says, led to “far greater suffering” that lasted for decades.
In this interview with the Register, Porter recounts her traumatic experience and expresses her concern that the Amazon Synod’s working document — and therefore the synod itself — risks introducing into Catholic life a practice similar to the one she experienced in Brazil.
The synod should be trying to evangelize these peoples “in the saving power of Christ,” Porter says, rather than, as the working document states, viewing aboriginal peoples as having “already received divine revelation” and whose spirituality should be a “source of riches for the Christian experience” that should be “formed into a catechism” (123).
What experiences did you have in Brazil that make you concerned about the upcoming synod?
In the summer of 1968 I went to Brazil as an official British student from the University of Essex to carry out a thesis for my undergraduate degree in Comparative Latin American Studies with Brazilian Portuguese.
As a practicing Roman Catholic in one of the first American-based secular universities in Britain, I found the teaching of the religious aspects on the history and politics of Latin America skeletal. I therefore had little understanding of the true nature of the culture from a theological view as it had evolved since colonization by the West in the 16th and 17th centuries.
My faith was traditional, given by my parents since my birth. At Essex University, I learned of the new liberation theology being introduced into the Latin American Church and of the social work undertaken by “worker priests” in the growing slums of the cities, particularly in Rio de Janeiro. And while in Brazil, I decided to investigate this subject as the basis of my final degree thesis.
What happened next?
I traveled to Brazil by way of America, leaving Florida on a Latin American plane to Lima in Peru, from whence I planned to travel through the Amazon to join my university group in Rio de Janeiro. Unfortunately, I contracted an enterovirus from the water on the plane and was hospitalized in Lima on drips and strong medication for several weeks with an acute skin disease known as grand urticaria, which causes the skin to inflame, suppurate with poison and crack, the most distressing effect being disfigurement of the face and head, until the crust had fallen off.
Once well enough to travel, I flew directly to Rio de Janeiro where the British Embassy arranged for me to stay with two young sisters in the district of Ipanema, who were both teachers. They were Catholic, locally educated, very welcoming and kind. I learned later they were part of the newly formed middle-class who had originated from the poor indigenous (caboclo) peoples of the slums, favelas, where their families still resided.
For a few weeks, I proceeded with my thesis, visiting the Catholic University in Rio, the city’s slums, and later the archbishop of Brasilia, flying there with the military, as the city was only just beginning to be built.
[Some time later I had] a severe attack of grand urticaria, whereby I kept to my room on strong medication in the dark and out of the heat. The sisters [who cared for me] were kind and sympathetic, but my condition worsened so that my face became disfigured and encrusted with allergic reaction.