First day of school for aspiring
by Philip Pullella
ROME (Reuters) - It was the first day
of school, so some students were understandably nervous. But then
again, they were not taking just any course, but one run by a
Vatican university to teach aspiring demonologists and exorcists.
"There is no doubt that the devil
is intervening more in the life of man these days," Father
Paolo Scarafoni told the students, most of them priests who want
to learn how to tackle the demon if they should ever encounter
"Not all of you will become exorcists
but it is indispensable that every priest knows how to discern
between demonic possession and psychological problems," he
The four-month course, called "Exorcism
and the Prayer of Liberation," is being offered for the second
year by Pontifical Regina Apostolorum University on Rome's outskirts.
The about 120 students from around the
world will hear lectures on topics such as the pastoral, spiritual,
theological, liturgical, medical, legal and criminological aspects
of Satanism and demonic possession.
One planned lecture is called: "Problems
related to exorcism and correlated issues."
One priest, who asked not to be identified,
said he decided to take the course after a "very unsettling
experience" while hearing the confession of one young member
of his parish.
"Her voice changed, her face was
transformed and she started speaking in a language that she did
not know," he said. "I've met people who are suffering
from this problem and it is not as rare as we might imagine."
So, will he be ready to wrestle with demons
of the kind who may have possessed his parishioner in the confessional
"If, after this course, my superiors
decide that it will be useful for me to become an exorcist, I
will do it," he said.
Interest in the devil and the occult has
been boosted by films such as this year's "The Exorcism of
Emily Rose," and last year's "Exorcist: The Beginning,"
which was the sequel to the original "The Exorcist"
But forget the films. The students will
have several real-life and well known exorcists to teach them.
One is Father Gabriele Nanni, who attended
Thursday's opening class and spoke to Reuters during a break.
"First thing is the priest has to
know if the devil is at work in a person or if the problem is
somewhere else," he said.
Nanni said there are four sure signs that
pointed to demonic possession rather than psychological problems.
He listed them as:
"When someone speaks or understands
languages they normally do not; when their physical strength is
disproportionate to their body size or age; when they are suddenly
knowledgeable about occult practices; when they have a physical
aversion to sacred things, such as the communion host or prayers."
According to some estimates, as many as
5,000 people are thought to be members of Satanic cults in Italy
with 17-to 25-year-olds making up three quarters of them.
In 1999, the Vatican updated its ritual
It starts with prayers, a blessing and
sprinkling of holy water, the laying on of hands on the possessed,
and the making of the sign of the cross.
The formula begins: "I order you,
Satan..." It goes on to denounce Satan as "prince of
this world" and "enemy of human salvation." It
ends: "Go back, Satan."
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