Bob Canton waved one hand over his audience. “How many of you have raised the dead?” he asked. As 1,300 people looked back at him, the church was silent except for a few nervous chuckles.

That,” Canton said after an uncomfortable pause, “is why the dead stay dead.”

Canton was smiling, but he wasn’t kidding. The 66-year-old Catholic lay preacher wants everybody to know that the same Jesus who healed the sick and raised the dead 2,000 years ago will do the same today, if only we will take him seriously.

Canton, a former member of the Vatican-based International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services council, was one of two featured speakers at the Vancouver archdiocesan charismatic conference Sept. 21-22, sharing the bill with Dr. Mary Healy, a leading Catholic Bible scholar. The annual conference drew its largest crowd ever to Broadway Church, a Pentecostal Assemblies building approved by the archdiocese for Catholic events.

Nobody raised any dead people, but there was no shortage of reports of the blind seeing, the deaf hearing, and the lame walking, as Canton called those in need of healing to the front of the church after two of his three talks. Healy and local volunteers joined in praying for the sick at the larger of the healing services, near the end of the conference.

One of the volunteers was Carol Jones of Kelowna, who was co-emcee for the event. She watched as Healy prayed for a woman in a wheelchair. The woman’s daughter said radiation for bone cancer had given her a spinal fracture. “She stood up out of the wheelchair and walked, assisted by Dr. Healy,” Jones said. “She wept as she continually said to her daughter and husband, ‘I can stand up straight again, I can stand up straight again!’ She then proceeded to walk a ways up the aisle and back again, alternating between smiles and tears of joy.”

Others left canes or walkers behind as they walked the aisles of the church. Canton prayed over one woman who asked to be healed of blindness; then he stepped back and asked her to mimic a series of his hand movements. Her gestures, near-perfect mirror images, were visible all over the church. Canton also took hearing aids out of people’s ears and spoke to them in a low voice, getting them to repeat his words.

When conference organizers ran out of time for the healing service, some of the crowd followed Canton into the church hallway, where he continued praying for the sick.

Canton was born in the Philippines but came to the United States in 1973 and now lives in Stockton, Calif. He was baptized in the Holy Spirit – the crucial experience in the charismatic renewal – in 1984, and has had a travelling healing ministry since 1990, visiting 51 countries. But he’s careful to say who really does the healings: “I am not a healer,” he told the conference. “I only pray for healing, and leave the result to the Lord.”

He devoted most of his talks to ways of eliminating all the factors that block the success of prayer for healing, ranging from unforgiveness to sinful lifestyles to superstitions and occult practices. He also said we need to take care of our health in the normal, common-sense way in addition to praying for healing; otherwise, “we can pray until the cows come home.”

Healy, a professor at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit and a member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, also spoke on healing. “Jesus is alive, and he’s here to heal us and deliver us,” she said, and we are commissioned by him to do the same. “It’s kind of astounding how we have neglected and passed over this element in the mission of Our Lord.”

She said the current crisis of sexual abuse in the Church is part of that healing process and is like bringing cockroaches into the light: “He (Jesus) is allowing that darkness to come to light so that it can be healed.”

Archbishop Michael Miller celebrated the concluding Mass and thanked the charismatic prayer groups of the archdiocese for their faithful witness to the Gospel. “You affirm the primacy of God in all things,” he said. “Thank you for speaking to others of that great friendship (with Jesus.)”

There are more than two dozen charismatic prayer groups in parishes throughout the Archdiocese of Vancouver and about 20 spread across the province’s other four dioceses. For more information visit the Vancouver website or the B.C. website,