Help Wanted: The Philippines Needs More Exorcists
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.