Priests vs demons: How you become open to ‘attacks’
(First of two parts)
Causes of demonic attacks vary. In many cases, the targets do not deliberately call on evil spirits so these would latch onto them. Rather, they engage in “spiritual openings” that the spirits consider an invitation, which eventually leads to an attack.
Demonic attacks range from oppression, in which a person’s health, finances and relationships are affected; obsession, in which a person’s mind is toyed with through disturbing images and voices only they can see and hear; to possession, in which evil spirits take over a person’s body.
The unwitting act of mixing Catholicism with folk religiosity is a common way to invite demons, says Fr. Jose Francisco Syquia, chief exorcist of the Archdiocese of Manila.
“It’s considered syncretism, when people try to accommodate so much from other religions, cultures or beliefs without thinking that this [borders on] superstition and idolatry,” he explains.
Fr. Daniel Estacio, exorcist of the Diocese of Pasig, offers concrete examples in an online talk on spiritual warfare sponsored by the Archdiocese of Manila Office of Exorcism (AMOE):
“You wear a scapular of Mama Mary for protection but you also wear an ‘anting-anting’ (amulet). You recite a novena but you mix it with an ‘orasyon’ (incantation) from an ‘albularyo’ (faith healer). You have a devotion to the Holy Angels, [but dwarfs play an important part in your life]. Or you display an image of the Sto. Niño but beside it, you have a [figure of a] waving cat or a frog to attract luck.”
Syquia says syncretism is a violation of the First Commandment that explicitly says: “You shall have no other gods before Me.” He notes that the Old Testament is rife with accounts of how Israelites worshipped Yahweh and also false gods.
“That is an adulterous action because it is a direct affront against God,” he says.
In pre-Hispanic times, Filipinos worshipped the spirits of their ancestors (“anito”) and nature spirits dwelling in rocks, trees and rivers. They converted to Catholicism under the Spanish colonizers, but many continued to engage in native worship covertly.
Other practices considered as folk Catholicism are the recitation of orasyon in pidgin Latin or Spanish that are not actual prayers addressed to God; the saying of “tabi-tabi po,” which is a tacit submission to the power of a “laman-lupa” (nature spirit) instead of a command for it to leave in Jesus’ name; and the offering of “padugo,” the spilling of the blood of a chicken, goat or pig at a construction site of a building in order to “protect” it.
“Padugo is considered a form of consecration to spirits, giving them the right and authority over a place. But what spirits?” says Estacio. His advice: “Have a Church blessing instead.”
Using an anting-anting is especially dangerous, says Estacio. “It is said that the anting-anting renews its power on Good Friday because Jesus Christ died on that day. If God is dead on Good Friday, [where are you getting your] power?”
According to Estacio, belief in souls and spirits is found in pagan societies where nature is believed to have powers that can be used for good or bad purposes.
“There is the desire to control or have power over nature because not doing so creates anxiety. Power gives man control in an uncertain world —the power to make rain, grow crops, ensure fertility,” Estacio says.
He warns that the same power is now used in evil spells and witchcraft: “Using sorcery to gain wealth is contrary to religion. Calling on souls of dead relatives through the spirit of the glass or coin is misleading. One actually calls on evil spirits.”
Syquia’s books on exorcism provide a list of practices considered occult and therefore against the First Commandment. These includes a belief in horoscopes, feng shui, tarot, palm reading, astrology, pyramid energy and transcendental meditation.
All forms of fortune-telling, Estacio says, “are serious offenses against God and the First Commandment. The use of ‘tawas,’ ‘hula,’ mediums and ‘espiritista’ to predict future events, crystal balls … All are techniques from a gift not coming from God and open doors and windows to the demonic. A lot of biblical passages say God abhors these. The Church strongly discourages astrology—it is irreconcilable with our faith, morals and teachings and make us vulnerable as targets.”
Syquia cautions against going to “mambabarang” and “magtatawas” to counter witchcraft. Those who do fall into deeper bondage with the devil who caused the unexplained sickness in the first place. Only a deep relationship or reconciliation with God provides protection against such evil, he says.
So ingrained is folk religiosity in Filipino tradition, Syquia says, that he was shocked to learn that some priests considered themselves exorcists just because they had older relatives who were faith healers. (Legitimate exorcists undergo rigorous training and require the go-signal of a bishop before they can perform an exorcism. There are currently 170 members of the Philippine Association of Catholic Exorcists nationwide who are allowed to perform the rite.)
Estacio once “saw a priest who used ‘buntot pague’ (stingray’s tail) to whip the possessed during an exorcism,” says Syquia. “That’s dangerous syncretism—mixing up the faith with the occult. These priests perform rituals that are not sacramentals. They are priests but they incorporate folk religiosity, and they see nothing wrong with that. But these traditions are never discussed in theology.”
Syquia also mentions the “rare” case of a Catholic priest who was possessed: “He has a Chinese background and was apparently consecrated to a Chinese god when he was a child. He had psychic ability and was using it [to exorcise], so he got retaliated on by demons …. We had to exorcise him twice.”
There were also cases of nuns who had to be exorcised because they came from families with ties to the occult, says Syquia.
“Some of them enter the convent wearing amulets and talismans that came from parents who didn’t see anything wrong with that. So we had sisters who had spiritual openings because of ancestral spirits that latched onto them,” he recalls.
Exposure to trauma or abuse is another opening that makes a person prone to spiritual attack. These may include witnessing a murder or suicide, surviving an accident or sexual, physical or psychological abuse, living with resentment or wanting to seek revenge, Estacio says.
A case in point is a woman referred to Syquia’s office. Per AMOE records, she was a satanist who was abused by her uncle and a male cousin as a young girl. The man she later married was a philanderer. To gain membership in the satanist group, the woman was ordered to send death curses to her three abusers.
The woman was said to have willingly taken part in an orgy during her initiation and in the murder of infants during black masses offered to Satan. Although she eventually decided to leave the group, it took a long time before Syquia and his prayer warriors were able to liberate her from the demons that possessed her.
“Unforgiveness is the backdoor of the enemy,” Estacio says. “Fr. Gabriel Amorth, chief exorcist of the Vatican, said it is easy to confess before a priest and renounce a sin, but unforgiveness allows the enemy to latch.”
Syquia observes that many targets of demonic harassment referred to the AMOE carry tattoos on their skin.
Says the priest: “Tattoos are religious in nature, but our experience shows that many demons attach to tattoos. [Any] tattoo, [even if it depicts] Mama Mary. Because it’s body disfigurement and a religious initiation rite in paganism. When we exorcise, [that’s where it hurts]. Demons are attracted to that, to any kind of disorder that is unnatural in a person.”
Syquia says staying long in a state of sin is another invitation to evil spirits, and recalls the case of a man with a long-time mistress who could no longer sleep at night be cause of demonic laughter that kept him awake.
“Once we do ‘surgery’, we have to remove everything,” he warns. “If you confess your adultery but return to your mistress, there is only an abuse of the grace of confession because you were not sincere. Satan would be more angry and send more demons to you. To harass you even more.” But then, Syquia says, there are those who prefer demonic harassment to giving up a mistress or an evil activity, like the man who, after consultation, simply said, “I’ll think about it, Father.” The man refused to return “billions of money” that he had stolen, and never went back to the priest.
It is not the job of exorcists to pray over those engaged in sin for a long time “until they make a choice for God,” Syquia says.
He declares: “God gave man free will so he can decide his actions for himself. It is not He who needs you. It is you who need Him. Sometimes harassment happens because [you are being awakened] and made aware of the reality of your situation. How does God forgive someone who does not want to change his ways and be forgiven?
“If the devil is harassing you now, you can be sure it will be worse when you die [if you refuse] to change your ways. It’s a foretaste of the devil’s power over you and what he really plans for you.”
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