Cured or injured? Questions arise about Louisville church’s holy water ritual

Published: Jul. 9, 2019 at 8:12 PM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - They come from all over North America to a church on Goldsmith Lane to be healed by holy water.

“I used to have really bad migraines,” said Yetmwork Adnew, who traveled from Virginia. “I don’t have it anymore.”

Fasil Gebrehiwot traveled from Toronto.

“After two weeks, I stopped the wheelchair to walk by myself,” said.

The Rev. Fikieyesus Desta, of the Ethiopian Tewahedo Church, said anyone can be healed.

“Anyone who is sick, spiritually or physically, can go to the church and get the holy water service and is healed,” he said.

It’s an Ethiopian Orthodox Church named Debre Haile St. Gabriel, near Bashford Manor.

“Once it got famous, more people would, with more serious illnesses, would come,” Sarah Korssa, of the Ethiopian Tewahedo Church, said. “It just took off, from people like say who couldn’t see to being able to see, to people who had cancer.”

All a WAVE 3 News crew was allowed to photograph of the holy water treatment was the room where it happens. The only video of it being done in Louisville is on YouTube.

Since WAVE 3 News’ initial report aired in September, many have questioned what’s going on there.

WAVE 3 News recently sent an employee in with a hidden camera. She was told twice she was not dressed appropriately, wearing jeans and a long-sleeve shirt.

“When you come here next time, you have to wear a dress,” a man at the church told her. “Cannot wear that. You have to cover your hair. A lot of people here, they’re men. So they looking at you. They think something else, so you distract them.”

She asked how to dress for the holy water ritual.

“Should I wear a bathing suit or something with the holy water?” she said.

“No, no, you just take off all,” a man at the church said. “You just sit there and the water is coming on your head, and then at the front of your head. They touch you with the cross. They touch you here and here. It’s good for you. You can get better, get better.”

Last month, WAVE 3 News was contacted by a medical provider at a local hospital who wrote, “we have had several patients who are from out of town who have come to us after injuries sustained at the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church in Louisville,” involving hoses with water in the eyes and mouth and restraint.

By phone, she told WAVE 3 News the injuries ranged from bilateral shoulder dislocation to seizure, which she said involved restraint and extreme water intoxication, similar to water boarding. She asked WAVE 3 News to conceal her name and her hospital, and said the most recent victim of this was May 17.

WAVE 3 News filed an open-records request on EMS runs to that church at 2216 Goldsmith Lane. The records reflected there have been eight over the past eight months, most recently on May 17. Because of medical privacy, EMS would not provide any more details, including reasons for the runs or the hospitals to where the patients were transported.

WAVE 3 News requested police, fire and EMS dispatched runs through Metrosafe to the church in 2018 and so far in 2019. There were 24, including a September 2018 caller claiming someone at the location “is dying,” and a May 2018 caller claiming “members are holding her hostage.” But it was difficult to learn much more because Metrosafe heavily redacted much of the information, even the remarks about what was going on.

WAVE 3 News went to the church several times asking to talk to the person in charge about it. Church board secretary Addis Megun said he is the one.

“Are people being injured in the holy water treatment?” I asked him.

"Never," Megun said. "If something happens, they should tell to us. So we never had any kind of this thing, this thing. I never heard of that."

He said he has never seen or known of EMS coming there.

“If EMS comes here, you should see it, right?” I asked.

“We should see it,” Megun said. “If EMS is coming here, I have to know.”

“I would think you would know,” I said. “So you don’t know about this EMS run May 17th at 7:30 in the morning?”

“No, no one told us,” Megun said.

WAVE 3 News showed him the YouTube clip of the holy water treatment showing a naked woman screaming and being pelted on the back of the neck by a cup of water.

“I saw this post already,” Megun said.

“He gets mad at her and he throws a cup at her,” I said.

“It’s not a cup, it’s water,” Megun said.

“It kind of looks abusive to me, no?” I asked.

“It’s not abuse because everybody when they come to our church, they always sign a paper,” Megun said. “When people come here, now, they know that these kinds of things happen, back home, and so they do it here, too. It is a religious thing. They know what they are doing and we know what we are doing. One hundred percent sure that everybody who comes here is for healing. No one comes here and gets sick after he finished, or injured, as far as I know. This is spirituality, and the main cure is God. It’s not about the holy water.”

Is anyone doing anything about this?

The hospital we’re told some of the injured people were taken to said it reports suspected assault cases to the proper authorities.

The state agency they would be reported to will not comment due to privacy.

Copyright 2019 WAVE 3 News. All rights reserved.