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A conference in Rome this week is training lay people and priests to carry out exorcisms because organisers say there has been a rise in demand.
The need for qualified practitioners has risen sharply as the decline in religious belief and modern secularism has “opened the window” to Satanism and the occult, the organisers said.
The six-day course is being jointly run by the Legionaries of Christ and GRIS, a Bologna-based Catholic research group that studies sects and religious movements.
The course, which aims to “raise awareness of the devil’s existence and the possibility for possession”, will prepare 200 people, including both priests and lay people.
Organiser Fr Cesare Truqui, an exorcist and member of the Legionaries, said: “The course is aimed primarily at priests, who have the most interest in learning the ministry of exorcism but not only at them. An exorcist priest is in fact usually flanked by a group of lay people who help him with his ministry.”
“They can be psychologists, psychiatrists, doctors, but also normal people professionals, housewives, who can assist the priest in the exorcism,” he said.
The assistants play an important role in establishing whether a person is possessed by the devil and then “curing the discerning spirit”, he continued.
Giuseppe Ferrari of GRIS said the call for exorcisms was growing in line with numbers of lay people dabbling in black magic, paganism and the occult.
He said: “We live in a disenchanted society, a secularised world that thought it was being emancipated, but where religion is being thrown out and the window is being opened to superstition and irrationality.”
The abandonment of religion “inevitably leads people to ask questions about the existence of evil and its origins,” he said.
Fr Franceso Bamonte, of the International Association of Exorcists, said that the 250 or so exorcists in Italy are “often unable to handle the enormous number of requests for help”.
Fr Vincenzo Taraborelli, an exorcist in Rome, said he sees dozens of people a day. “Priests don't have time to comfort and listen to them. So they come to me. They knock at my door seeking a blessing, or help with their suffering.”
Last year Francis appeared to exorcise a young disabled man who experienced violent convulsions when he laid his hands on him in a blessing. The Vatican denied that he had attempted an exorcism on that occasion.