Wilbur Shadley of Manchester, Michigan, was the first to die. He had paid $658 round-trip fare this fall to join a chartered planeload of 110 seriously ill North Americans who flew to the Philippines for “miraculous” knifeless surgery. Before his death from cancer at age 57, Shadley said faith healer Antonio Agpaoa had promised he would be cured in half a year.

The 110 arrived in Manila October 8 and drove straight to Baguio City, the summer resort base of “Doctor” Agpaoa, who reportedly claims credit for 30,000 operations with his bare hands. Medical authorities have called him a “fake,” and the Philippine Medical Association and federal tax agents are keeping a close watch.

The American pilgrims ranged in age from 7 to 63 and included a clergyman and his nephew. A spokesman for the group, who identified himself as James Osberg of Chicago, said nobody had a “negative attitude” toward physicians but that since they had done all they could, “where else can we turn but to God?” He said many came at the suggestion of their own doctors. The trip was organized by 47-year-old steelworker Joseph Ruffner, who says Agpaoa cured him of an eleven-year spinal infirmity last year.

After the pilgrimage, the Americans reportedly were disappointed. Wheelchair cases were still in wheelchairs. Of those on crutches, only two had shown signs of improvement.

Who is Agpaoa? The origin of his international fame is not clear. One story in the Philippines has it that the Agpaoa cult abroad started among California’s fringe groups, pushed by a chiropractor, a lady writer, and a millionaire who wanted a book written on Agpaoa. The fad faded when TV iconoclast Joe Pyne, after observing Agpaoa in action, broadcast an exposé demonstration of Agpaoa’s surgery. ...

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