VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- St. John Paul II once
called Lent a period of "spiritual training" for sharpening people's
ability to recognize "the voice of God and the insidious voice of the evil
But those skills need constant exercise, not
just during Lent, exorcists have told reporters over the years. And priests,
too, they've said, need to be ready with the right training to do battle with
the devil and spiritually assist their people.
That need is rising, one exorcist told
Vatican News in February. At least half a million people seek help from the
church in Italy for suspected demonic influence -- a demand that has tripled in
recent years, said Franciscan
Father Benigno Palilla, an exorcist for the Archdiocese of Palermo.
"Very often, we priests do not know how
to face concrete cases brought before us. These things don't get talked about
during priestly formation," he said.
Father Cesare Truqui, an exorcist who
received his training from the renowned Father Gabriele Amorth in Rome, said
many priests "do not believe in the existence of the true possibility of a
possession, because it is very rare."
But just because actual demonic possession rarely
happens, every diocese in the world still needs to have at least one trained
exorcist on hand for that eventuality, he said.
"It's like a dentist. Thanks be to God
we don't need to go to the dentist every week, but (when) we need the dentist,
we need him," he told Catholic News Service in Rome in early March.
Also, a trained, experienced exorcist can
accurately discern whether a problem is linked to demonic action and when it is
the more likely case of a person just experiencing life's inevitable difficulties
or mental or emotional problems.
While priests must help people understand
the real presence of evil, "you also have to teach people that not every
shadow is the devil," he said.
Not having on staff an exorcist or an
attentive, empathetic priest who can make a referral also makes people looking
for help even more vulnerable, he said.
"I have a case right now, a person went
to African sorcerers," he said, "because he didn't find in the
Catholic Church any help with what he was looking for."
"I think if (the person) had found a
priest that listened to him, accompanied him and helped him out, he wouldn't be
possessed right now."
Italy's slumping economy and uncertain job
market have also driven growing numbers of people in Italy to turn to fortune
tellers, card readers, healers and gurus, according to Italy's national
consumer protection agency, Codacons.
While many of these black-market
practitioners are "fakes" and cause little harm, those who are
connected with the occult "may increase the need for spiritual assistance
or exorcisms" for their unsuspecting victims, Father Truqui said.
People should also watch out for fake,
untrained or unauthorized priests, Father Truqui said. Only a priest authorized
by his bishop can perform exorcisms in his own diocese, not elsewhere.
In an ongoing effort to help support this
often-overlooked ministry, Father Truqui will be one of several experts
teaching an international course on exorcism and prayers of liberation at the
Legionaries of Christ's Pontifical Regina Apostolorum University in Rome April
16-21. The course will be offered in conjunction with the Vatican-recognized
International Association of Exorcists.
Father Truqui explains how he unexpectedly
became an exorcist in a new book, "Profession: Exorcist. The Most
Disturbing Cases of Possession and Liberation," co-authored with Chiara
Santomiero. The book is currently available only in Italian.
He writes how he visited Father Amorth to
invite him to attend the first exorcism course at the university in 2004, but
found him in the middle of an exorcism, holding up a crucifix to a man
threatening to kill him.
Father Truqui writes that he was frozen in
the doorway with his "hair standing on end," and Father Amorth
casually invited him to stay -- for what ended up being a string of exorcisms
that day -- and to help by praying.
Father Truqui wrote it was a surprising
start to four years of collaboration and friendship with the well-known priest,
a journey that eventually led him to leave the Legionaries and become a parish
priest and exorcist for the Diocese of Chur, Switzerland.
The Mexico-born priest said he sees his work
as a ministry of mercy, bringing people closer to the sacraments and a life of
prayer -- a potent medicine for remaining faithful to Christ and finding peace.
He told CNS that he sees his work as "very
evangelical" in that he directly faces the same spirits Jesus battled in
the Gospels and experiences "that what Christ told in the Gospel is true."
"It's very nice to understand that when
you are an exorcist, you can grasp with your hands the reality and the strength
and the force of the power of prayer," he said.