ROME, Italy– The tenth annual course on exorcism has gotten off to a bang in Rome, with a full house of 170 students eager to learn how to recognize and fight demonic possession.
Sponsored by the Vatican Congregation for the Clergy and organized by the Sacerdos Institute, the weeklong course titled “Exorcism and Prayer of Liberation” is taking place at the European University of Rome from April 13 to 18.
The course consists in a series of meetings aimed at giving priests, doctors, psychologists, teachers, and pastoral workers the instruments they need to recognize and deal with cases of demonic possession and distinguish them from disturbances of a psychological or medical nature.
Breitbart spoke with Father Pedro Barrajon, the organizer of the program, who said that the exceptional interest in the course reflects a growing awareness of the activity of the devil in the world, and a concern on the part of bishops to have some of their men specially trained for dealing for this reality.
He told Breitbart that some three quarters of the 170 students are priests, with the other 25% being lay people.
Barrajon noted that years ago the action of Satan was downplayed so much that few bothered even to speak of demonic activity. For a while, he said, it was typical to explain away the many accounts of demonic possession in the gospel as well as the episodes of Jesus driving out demons, “attributing them to the ignorance of the age and a readiness to recur to supernatural causes to explain diseases like epilepsy or psychological disorders.”
While that may be true in certain cases, Barrajon said, “it certainly doesn’t eliminate the clear references to the activity of the devil throughout the gospels,” something that “is generally recognized now by scholars.”
“Jesus obviously believed in the devil,” he said.
Pope Francis has spoken of the devil repeatedly, insisting that he is real and must be fought. This generation, the Pope said last October, “was led to believe that the devil was a myth, a picture, an idea, the idea of evil. But the devil exists, and we have to fight him.”
“The devil,” the Pope went on, “is a liar, the father of lies.”
Father Barrajon was quick to insist that the most common action of Satan in the lives of human beings is not possession, but rather temptation, “something we all experience,” he said.
“The devil is the sworn enemy of God and his major concern is to separate us from God and his commandments, and to make us doubt God’s goodness,” Barrajon told Breitbart.
Regarding how to distinguish the action of the devil or demons from simple psychic disorders, Barrajon said that this is where experience and a deep life of prayer are especially important.
“Traditionally there are certain signs that often accompany true cases of possession,” the priest said, “things that are difficult if not impossible to explain otherwise.”
These signs include aversion for sacred objects, the sudden ability to speak languages that the person has never studied or had contact with, the movement of objects with no physical cause, sharp changes in mood that are not attributable to psychological reasons, and other such things, he told Breitbart.
Barrajon also noted that exorcists often team up with psychologists, psychiatrists and medical doctors to look at all the possible factors influencing a person’s situation.
Pope Francis has praised the work of exorcists, priests dedicated to the work of deliverance and casting out demons.
According to the Pope, priests devoted to the ministry of exorcism “manifest the Church’s love and acceptance of those who suffer because of the devil’s works.”
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.