Stranger Than Fiction: A Priest in Columbia Performs 10 Exorcisms Per Week While Italy Has an "Exorcism Hotline"
03.01.13 by BJSprecher
"What an excellent day for an exorcism."
For centuries, whenever a person exhibited bizarre or deviant behavior, such as violent outbursts or speaking in a different voice or language, they were often thought to be possessed by a demon or spiritual entity. When this occured, the community's priest, cleric, witch doctor or medicine man would typically be summoned to expel the invading spirit through a ritual exorcism. Exorcisms began to decline dramatically by the 18th century due to advancements in medicine, and they were all but unheard of by the middle of the 20th century, with the majority of so-called possessions diagnosed as mental illnesses like Tourette's syndrome, schizophrenia or dissociative identity disorder.
Considering how advanced our science, medicine and technology is now in the 21st century, you would think that ritual of exorcisms would be extinct like the archaic practices of bloodletting and trepanation, but exorcisms have been on the rise around the world for the past few decades. Claims of possession have gotten to be so numerous that the Catholic Church in the United States held a conference to prepare priests and bishops to identify possessions, while a priest in Columbia reportedly performs as many as 10 exorcisms per week. In Milan, Italy, so many people entreat The Church for help with possessed friends and family members that a special "exorcism hotline" had to be set up to deal with all of the claims.
The Strange Truth
Faced with rising claims of possession from around the country, but only a handful of priests and bishops qualified to perform exorcisms, Roman Catholic bishops held a two-day conference in Baltimore in 2010 to instruct clergy members on how to distinguish between a person in need of psychiatric treatment and one in need of an exorcism. Said conference organizer Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki:
"Not everyone who thinks they need an exorcism actually does need one. It’s only used in those cases where the Devil is involved in an extraordinary sort of way in terms of actually being in possession of the person. But it’s rare, it’s extraordinary, so the use of exorcism is also rare and extraordinary. But we have to be prepared."
The Roman Catholic Church does not give out the names of exorcists or report the number of exorcisms performed each year, but Hermes Cifuentes has no problem sharing details about the more than 35,000 exorcisms he claims to have performed in his 25 years as a priest in Columbia, even allowing a photographer for Reuters to capture of film exorcisms in progress. "Brother Hermes" supposedly conducts 10 exorcisms per week, covering the possessed in black mud and dressing them in white garments before having them lie down on the ground in a deep hole. He places wooden crosses and eggs in their hands then ties ribbons around their fingers as he begins the exorcism, which involves the laying on of hands and ritual incantations.
In Milan, Italy, the number of people claiming to know someone who is possessed forced the Catholic diocese of Milan to create an exorcism hotline and to double the number of priests trained to perform exorcisms. The diocese's chief exorcist, Monsignor Angelo Mascheroni said that the hotline would help people find priests "in the same area" who wouldn't "have to travel too far." The hotline is also designed to give the exorcists a break. According to Monsignor Mascheroni, one exorcist was seeing as many as 120 people a day, which didn't allow for more than "a quick blessing" for each person.
The Exorcist (1973), Stigmata (1999), The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005), The Last Exorcism (2010), The Possession (2012), The Last Exorcism Part II (2013)
Exorcisms have been a part of popular fiction for ages, but William Friedkin's 1973 horror classic is widely credited as the inspiration for the recurring theme of possession in modern horror movies. The latest film in the horror sub-genre is The Last Exorcism Part II, which opens today in theaters nationwide. The sequel picks up after the events of 2010's The Last Exorcism, with Louisiana farm girl Nell Sweetzer (Ashley Bell) found alone in the woods. After being sent to a halfway house in New Orleans, Nell discovers that she can't remember much about the previous months, except that everyone in her family is dead. Before she can get her life back on track, the evil entity that possessed her in the first movie returns with a vengeance.
Photos courtesy of Reuters