Requests for exorcisms from diabolical possession soared during the COVID-19 pandemic, a conference in Rome has heard.
Lockdowns and financial and economic hardships were blamed for enticing people into the influence of “malign forces”, according to a six-day course on exorcism held at the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum, a Vatican-affiliated university.
Increased time spent watching hard-core films and browsing the internet for shocking material had led to a surge interest in the Occult, participants heard, with some people subsequently beginning to explore the supernatural.
Prof Giuseppe Ferrari, one of the organisers, said it meant the output of the mass media was actively attracting young people to the Occult.
“It’s a phenomenon that is growing and it is really worrying,” he said.
Italian Fr Gian Matteo Roggio, one of the speakers, said: “We have seen an increase in the request for exorcisms because the pandemic has made people more vulnerable to the idea that Satan or some evil entity has taken over their lives.
“People have fallen into poverty, they found themselves suffering from anxiety and depression. They feel that their lives are no longer in their own hands but in the hands of a malign force. It’s a big crisis,” he told the Daily Telegraph.
Many of them, he said, were also directly experiencing supernatural phenomena which left them and the priests they turned to convinced that their maladies far exceeded commonplace psychiatric illnesses.
“People speak languages they have never spoken before, even ancient tongues like Aramaic, Latin, Greek and Hebrew,” said Fr Roggio.
“They’re able to levitate off the ground or they vomit objects like nails and pieces of glass. There are people whose voices change completely – a woman might start speaking like a man. Some develop superhuman strength and it takes four or five people to restrain them.”
Another priest, Fr Luis Ramirez, said: “During the pandemic, priests around the world have had more requests for psychiatric help from parishioners.
“There is more awareness of exorcists and exorcisms among Catholics in general.”
The annual event, which is now in its 15th year, has drawn more than 100 priests and bishops from all over the world.
It includes lectures on such themes as “The Symbolism of Satanic and Occult Rituals” and “Exorcism in the Context of Afro-Brazilian Magical Rites”.
There were also seminars on “Demonic subjugation”, “Angels and demons in Holy Scripture” and “Historical sources for the rite of exorcism”.
The increase in instances of diabolical possession and obsession has been observed in many western countries with the decline of Christianity, including the UK.
Some dioceses of England and Wales have recorded rising numbers of people – including many non-Catholics – turning to priests for help.
The majority of cases are psychiatric in origin but more priests are nevertheless being trained as exorcists in response to the rising demand.
The phenomenon was highlighted over a decade ago when Fr Jeremy Davies, the chief exorcist of the Archdiocese of Westminster, controversially asserted that more and more people in Britain were becoming afflicted by evil spirits through promiscuity and sexual “perversion”.
In a booklet called Exorcism: Understanding Exorcism in Scripture and Practice, he also warned Catholics that yoga, horoscopes, drug use, demonic music, radical Islam and pornography could all lead to possession by the devil.
The first run of 5,000 copies sold faster than any other publication by the Catholic Truth Society.
In the book, Father Davies spells out the degrees of demonic influence a person may experience, which range from temptation and sin, to obsession and then possession – with perfect possession being the gravest and rarest form and which usually entails a deliberate commitment to evil on the part of the person involved.
There are sections on the rites and methods of exorcism and deliverance – including those of buildings and places as well as people.
Father Davies says that if a person is in desperate need of help and felt stranded, he or she should go straight to a bishop.
The Catholic Church has always insisted that exorcism is a vital part of its ministry, with the Gospels describing no less than eight exorcisms being performed by Jesus Christ himself.
Pope St John Paul II carried out exorcisms in 1982, 2000 and 2002 and last year his successor, Pope Benedict XVI, ordered his bishops to reinforce the ranks of priests able to carry out such rituals.
Pope Francis frequently speaks about the snares of the Devil and in 2018 urged Catholics to return to the practice of saying the prayer to St Michael the Archangel after each recital of the Rosary.
Above: Father Elias Rahal, 68, performs exorcism ritual on a Lebanese lady at a church in the district of Mina in the northern port city of Tripoli on April 19, 2018. (Photo by IBRAHIM CHALHOUB / AFP via Getty Images)
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