Editorial Note: Stefano Ciotti contributed in authoring this article.
ROME – Hollywood and social media are proliferating new pathways for demonic possession according to the organizers of the “Course on Exorcism and Prayers of Liberation.” That includes what they perceive as the growing interest in Witchcraft and Paganism among young people. Vampirism was also included as a topic of concern, as was the celebration of Halloween.
The “Course on Exorcism and Prayers of Liberation” usually brings together some 300 Catholic exorcists and experts to discuss the serious threats from Satanic activity in modern society. These experts do battle with evil forces on a regular basis and they have come together at this conference which has existed for the past 14 years to share their knowledge and learn of new trends being employed by Satanic forces.
The media attention on the conference was intense when it first formed. So much so, that the conference suspended in 2008 to refocus itself and develop a new approach.
Blessed by Pope Francis several years ago and sponsored by the Vatican, the annual conference took place in the suburbs of Rome at the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum, an educational institute of the Roman Catholic Church that was given permission by Pope John Paul II to be a Pontifical University, that is, an ecclesiastical academic religious institution of the Holy See.
Exorcisms are part of the Catholic Catechism, noting that, “Jesus performed exorcisms and from him the Church has received the power and office of exorcizing.” According to the Vatican’s Canon Law (1172), “No one can legitimately conduct exorcisms on the possessed, unless he has obtained [license] from the Ordinary of regions,” (usually a bishop). That Ordinary only “grants this license to the priest who is adorned with piety, science, prudence and integrity of life.”
This year was different. The conference which occurred from May 6-11, invited non-Catholics to attend for the first time in its history. Father Pedro Barrajón, LC, rector of Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Athenaeum and an exorcist from Spain who is in charge of programming at the conference, said that, “Catholics are by no means the only Christians who have developed methods to help possessed people or to rid a space of evil spirits.” He added that, “This is the first time we have included so many other religious representatives to share how they do this work. We think collaborating will help us create best practices.”
The conference cost €400 (US$450) per person. This year 241 individuals attended from 42 countries and included not only priests and nuns, but also laity as well as physicians, psychiatrists and psychologists as well as concerned with the topic exorcism. In addition to Catholics, other denominations of Christianity were present including experts from the Anglican, Greek Orthodox, Lutheran and Pentecostal churches.
The attendees hope to return with a set of practices to combat the various tools employed by Satanic forces including Witchcraft. Two speakers, one from Brazil and the other from Nigeria, focused specifically on black magic.
The Nigerian speaker described the JuJu curse. Reuters has reported about this curse in the sex trafficking of women. The threat of the JuJu is used to manipulate women into the slave sex trade, and fear of the repercussions of the curse, which results in physical maiming, is used to keep them in bondage.
The Brazilian speaker discussed the Besta-fera, a ferocious centaur-like creature that appears during the full moon. Legend describes the creature as the incarnation of the Devil. Besta-fera causes madness in those who witness it.
A Filipino speaker discussed how to identify and battle the Aswang spirit, a shapeshifting spirit with various guises including a Witch, its ultimate form for vindictiveness. Its other guises are vampire, weredog and ghoul.
According to the organizers the rise of Satanic and Pagan imagery is prominent and ever-increasing in the public consciousness. That imagery can be exploited by evil forces, which are running rampant in societies across the world.
In 2017, for example, a major exorcism that included a mass as well as a procession of torches was held in La Plata, a region of Buenos Aires in Argentina, against the “Devil’s ambushes during Halloween.” The exorcism and service were attended by hundreds of celebrants seeking protection against the evil forces unleashed on the night before All Saint’s Day. The local exorcist, Fr. Alejandro Diaz, conducted the ceremony to clear the town of the evil. He noted in this homily following the exorcism that, “Our struggle is not against the flesh and the blood, but against the Principalities, against the Powers, against the Dominators of this dark world, against the Spirits of Evil that growing in strength.”
More recently, one of the organizers of the conference in Rome who is also an exorcist and Secretary of the “Research Group for Socio-religious information and Research,” Fr. Giuseppe Ferrari, denounced a faun statue in Bologna because it bears the likeness of Lucifer. Ferrari noted that the statue is an example of these dangers. He said “The inauguration of that statue is an example of the depths to which we have arrived. Meanwhile, the politicians say that those who deal with exorcism are obscurantists.”
At the conference Ferrari noted that, “everything seems to indicate that the Evil One is interested, thanks in part to the romance in cinema or literature [of ‘occult’ topics]: It is a subject that always receives attention, even though, theologically speaking, the theme of God is much richer.” He also warned non-believers that skepticism in exorcism is another trap into possession.
Fr. Francoise Dermine, OP, from Quebec echoed that point in a conversation with the Catholic News Agency. “We must not undervalue the significance of temptation. It’s not as spectacular as possession, but it’s far more dangerous [to the soul],” Dermine said. However, Fr. Dermine, an exorcist for over 25 years, warned that demonic possession must be carefully discerned after exhausting medical and psychological causes.
The 15th conference on the ministry of the exorcism and prayer of liberation has been set for May 11-16, 2020.