Help Wanted: The Philippines Needs More Exorcists

Help Wanted: The Philippines Needs More Exorcists

7:21pm Jul 30, 2015
Father Jose Francisco Syquia heads the Office of Exorcism in the Philippines.
Father Jose Francisco Syquia heads the Office of Exorcism in the Philippines.
TED ALJIBE / AFP/Getty Images

Alvin Bailon and his wife were at their wits' end last September. Their 12-year-old son, an honors student, had begun having anxiety attacks, mostly about school. "And then all of a sudden he would slowly lose consciousness," Bailon recalls. "We term it as doze off. He would doze off and he would fall down slowly."

They brought him to three doctors, had his brain scanned (no irregularities were found), tried all sorts of anxiety pills prescribed by doctors. They even went to healers who use crystals for therapy.

Then they tried a beach retreat that the healers had recommended. Their son did well, but Bailon says on the car ride home the child "dozed off" and whispered in a totally unfamiliar voice, "Shhh, you might wake him up."

Father Jose Francisco Syquia heads the Office of Exorcism in the Philippines.

Father Jose Francisco Syquia heads the Office of Exorcism in the Philippines.

TED ALJIBE/AFP/Getty Images

That's when the Bailons did what many in the overwhelmingly Catholic country do when facing a family crisis: They turned to the church — and its Office of Exorcism, opened in 2006 to address a growing number of cases and run by Father Jose Francisco Syquia.

Dressed in a short-sleeve button-down shirt, the Rome-trained exorcist says he has been driving demonic spirits out of people and houses for more than a dozen years. He has seen a steady increase in cases in the past decade, with 200 so far this year.

"At any given time we have at the minimum 30 cases," says the 48-year-old. "And we're only five exorcists."

Father Syquia leads a team of four priests who get additional assistance from volunteers: psychiatrists, doctors, lawyers and laypeople.

Given the number of cases he's juggling, Syquia recently sent a letter to the Philippine bishops conference asking that it send one resident exorcist to each of the country's 86 dioceses.

"[The] majority of them do not have exorcists or a team of exorcists that deal with these kinds of cases," says Syquia. "Therefore many of the Filipinos tend to go to the occult practitioners, what we call the faith healers, spiritists, etc."

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Syquia believes these occult healers are responsible for the increased number of demonic possessions. The healers leave a person with "spiritual openings" that allow demons to latch on, he says.

Meanwhile, it's a draining job for the official exorcists. Just one session of prayers for a possessed individual can last four hours. And it may take several sessions, according to Syquia, to drive out evil spirits.

"That's very tiring," says Father Winston Cabading, secretary general of the University of Santo Tomas and a member of Syquia's team.

Not only that, the exorcists also have to deal with the aftereffects. They believe that demons retaliate against the priests.

"You expect that there will be more, what we call, retaliations because you are jumping into enemy territory and retaking ... what truly belongs to God," says Syquia. "And therefore it's more like maybe a commando raid behind enemy lines."

At least one of Syquia's trainees quit. Syquia says the trainee believed he had developed unexplained illnesses because of the work he was doing.

Nonetheless, Syquia believes young priests and seminarians have a real interest in spiritual warfare. And if they stick to it, they can help people like Alvin Bailon's son. After 10 months and 14 prayer sessions, Bailon says the boy is almost his old self.

"We've seen a lot of improvement in my son's condition, which is most important," the father reports. "He's back in school. He's doing so well, he's actually very independent."

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

In the Philippines, there's an office of the Catholic Church that's stretched thin and fighting off burnout. It's the office that handles exorcisms. Simone Orendain reports from Manila that the number of reported cases of demonic possession has been increasing for the past 10 years.

SIMONE ORENDAIN, BYLINE: Alvin Bailon and his wife were at their wits' end last summer. Their 12-year-old son was having anxiety attacks and would constantly pass out.

ALVIN BAILON: And then all of a sudden, he would slowly lose consciousness. We term it as doze off. He would doze off, and he would fall down slowly.

ORENDAIN: They brought him to three doctors, had his brain scanned and didn't find any problems. They tried all sorts of anxiety pills and even went to crystal therapy healers. Their son did do well at a beach retreat the healers recommended. But Bailon says on the car ride home, he dozed off and whispered, in a totally unfamiliar voice, shh (ph), you might wake him up. That was when his parents did what many in this overwhelmingly Catholic country do - they turn to the church.

(SOUNDBITE OF PHONE RINGING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Office of Exorcism.

ORENDAIN: To this office, actually. This is where Father Jose Francisco Syquia sees people in need of exorcism. Dressed in a short-sleeve, button-down shirt, the Rome-trained exorcist says he has been driving demonic spirits out of people and houses for more than a dozen years. This year alone, he's seen 200 cases.

FATHER JOSE FRANCISCO SYQUIA: At any given time, we have, at the minimum, 30 cases, and we're only five exorcists.

ORENDAIN: Father Syquia leads a team of four priests, all with full-time work. A group of volunteer psychiatrists, doctors, lawyers and laypeople help out. Given the number of cases he's juggling, Syquia recently sent a letter to the Philippine bishops' conference, asking that it put a resident exorcist in all 86 dioceses across the country.

SYQUIA: Majority of them do not have any exorcists or team of exorcists that deal with this kind of cases. Therefore, many of the Filipinos tend to go to the occult practitioners, what we call the faith healers, spiritists, et cetera.

ORENDAIN: Syquia believes this practice of going to healers is responsible for the rise in the number of cases of demonic possession. He says they leave a person with, quote, "spiritual openings" that allow demons to latch on. Father Winston Cabading is secretary general of the University of Santo Tomas. He's a member of Syquia's team. Cabading says just one session can take up to four hours of prayer.

WINSTON CABADING: There's the psychological part. There is the emotional part. And it's the emotional part that's so difficult, and that's where it takes forever. And you - that's very tiring.

ORENDAIN: And a possessed person most likely has to go to several such sessions. Not only that, Syquia says the exorcists have to deal with the aftereffects of wrestling with the demons.

SYQUIA: You expect that there will be more, what we call, retaliation because you are jumping into enemy territory and retaking what they call - what truly belongs to God, no? It's more like a - maybe a commando raid behind enemy lines.

ORENDAIN: At least one of Syquia's trainees quit. Syquia says the trainee believed he developed all sorts of unexplained illnesses because of the work he was doing. But Syquia believes young priests and seminarians have a real interest in spiritual warfare of this kind. And if they stick to it, they can help people like Alvin Bailon's son, who after 10 months and 14 prayer sessions, Bailon says, is almost his old self.

BAILON: We've seen a lot of improvement in my son's condition, I think, which is most important. He's back in school. He's doing so well. He's actually very independent.

ORENDAIN: For NPR News, I'm Simone Orendain in Manila. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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