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 CNS Story:

SATANISM-COURSE Feb-17-2005 (640 words) xxxi

Real possession by devil not that common, exorcists say during lesson

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

ROME (CNS) -- The devil is real and can possess people, but it does not happen as often as many people think, said two Italian exorcists.

When a person who thinks he or she is possessed approaches a priest looking for help, they said, the priest must know enough about possession to know whether a simple prayer is called for or whether he needs to refer the person to a psychologist or to the diocesan exorcist.

To prepare priests and future priests to help people in those situations, Rome's Regina Apostolorum university -- run by the Legionaries of Christ -- inaugurated a course on Satanism and exorcism Feb. 17.

About 120 seminarians and priests -- most of whom are not full-time students at Regina Apostolorum -- signed up for the course. Journalists were invited to the first lesson.

Father Paolo Scarafoni, a member of the Legionaries of Christ and rector of the university, told reporters: "Satanism is in fashion right now. It is being spread particularly through music and through the clothes musicians wear.

"People today find it easy to attribute strange phenomena or suffering to the devil," he said. "There are long lines of people standing at the doors of exorcists."

Father Francesco Bamonte, a noted exorcist in Rome, told the students he was fortunate to work with a team of priests and a psychologist "who screen all the requests for exorcism. Otherwise I would not have time for the people who really need me."

The priest, a member of the Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, said "several hundred" people approach his team each year thinking they are possessed.

After counseling, he said, "I do maybe 20 exorcisms each year."

Father Scarafoni said that, generally, "85 percent to 90 percent of these people are not possessed or even being attacked by the devil. They need someone to listen. They need a prayer. They need a long walk and a glass of water."

The Regina Apostolorum course, he said, "is designed to give priests the information they need for initial discernment and referral."

In addition to looking at the Catholic Church's rules and rituals for exorcism, the course also was to explore theology, spirituality, psychology and sociology, particularly regarding young people and Satanism.

Father Gabriele Nanni, an exorcist and an expert on the history of the exorcism rite, told the students that because demons are cast out in the name of Christ and his church any attempt at exorcism must follow church rules precisely and the exorcist -- always a priest -- must be explicitly assigned by the local bishop to perform the rite.

"If a priest falls victim to pride, the demon can take his power," Father Nanni said. "If you say, 'My bishop says I cannot do this exorcism, but I will anyway,' that is disobedience, and the devil rejoices."

Father Nanni told Catholic News Service that studying exorcism and working with people who believe they are possessed is not dangerous as long as the priest keeps his eyes focused firmly on Christ and acts in full obedience to his bishop.

An exorcist's spiritual journey is like the Easter vigil procession behind the Easter candle, he said.

"If we identify the light, if we identify the grace of God and follow it, we see the darkness only out of the corner of our eyes. But if we take our eyes off the candle, we see only darkness," he said.

Although he is an exorcist, Father Nanni said, "I am not immersed in the world of darkness, but in the world of light."

"It is not that I go looking for the devil; he has put himself as on obstacle on our path, and we must overcome him to reach our goal," he said.


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