From August 21-25, 2017, the Archdiocese of Manila Office of Exorcism (AMOE), the University of Santo Tomas (UST), and the Philippine Association of Catholic Exorcists (PACE) hosted the Second National Conference on the Ministry of Spiritual Liberation and Exorcism, at the Dr. Robert Sy Grand Ballroom of the Blessed Buenaventura G. Paredes, O.P. Building.

A Ministry to be Revived
The need to revive the ministry of spiritual liberation and exorcism was emphasized by His Eminence Luis Antonio Cardinal G. Tagle, O.P., DD, Archbishop of Manila, in his Opening Mass and Welcome Address. In a changing time where the faithful are exposed to various and confusing information from different channels, the battle against evil must be done more vigorously.

Foundations, fundamentals, faith
The five-day conference featured international and local speakers who had expertise in dealing with the occult and in providing counseling. Sessions included “Fundamental Angelology and Demonology for Ministry; Third Eye as Door to the Demonic” (Fr. Cabading), “DIscernment of False Mysticism and Extraordinary Phenomena and Diagnostic Interviewing and Prayers; Treating Demonic Infestation and Infested Objects” (Fr. Syquia), “Treating Demonic Obsession and Oppression” (Fr. Daniel L. Estacio), “Treating Demonic Possession” (Fr. Michell Joe B. Zerrudo, Exorcist of the Diocese of Cubao), “Why the Church renewed the ministry of exorcism; Jesus, Demons, Ghosts, and Magicians in the Gospels; and The Structure and Practice of the New Rites of Exorcism” (Fr. Dennis McManus, professor of Liturgy at the St. John the Evangelist Seminary in Boston).

The conference likewise provided insights on the impact of childhood trauma on spiritual opening (Ms. Rebecca Rafaela Esguerra), adult trauma (Ms. Milagros Reyes), and the psychiatric dimension of the ministry (Dr. Ramon Javier, MD). Finally, the roles of lay team collaborators (Ms. Rowena delos Reyes & Ms. Aurora A. Tambunting) and religious team collaborators (Sr. Paz Duerme, MCJ) were discussed.

Furthermore, three priests shared their experiences in the ministry, namely: Rev. Fr. Eugene N. David (“Learnings of a New Exorcist” – Archdiocese of Manila); Rev. Fr. Major Jose C. Españo (“As an Exorcist of the Military Diocese – Military Ordinariate); and Rev. Fr. Nonnette C. Legaspi (“Learnings on the Intrusions of the Demonic in Prayer Communities” – Diocese of Novaliches).

Be storytellers of God, not of the devil
In his homily during the Closing Mass, Lipa Archbishop Most Rev. Gilbert A. Garcera, DD said that the Church’s need for exorcists bring with it the need for storytellers. “We need to be storytellers about the Holy Spirit works in us and through us, not just of what the devil has been doing. As priests and ministers, we need to be storytellers of the Holy Spirit.

Misconceptions about the ministry
In retrospect, Rev. Fr. Winston F. Cabading, O.P., Exorcist of the AMOE and Executive Assistant of PACE, said that there is much confusion about the occult and the new age, even for well-meaning Catholics. Fr. Cabading said that exorcism was largely a solitary job in the past. “The exorcist was hidden, and he did his ministry alone. During the time when movies the ‘The Exorcist’ were shown, the Church was silent, so people ended up with misconceptions about the ministry. Now, we recognize this ministry as a ministry of the whole Church, so lay people likewise assist us.”

The whole Church
Both the Catholic priests and the lay help in the ministry of spiritual liberation and exorcism. AMOE Chief Exorcist Fr. Jose Francisco Syquia, himself a Thomasian, said the formal way by which lay people assist is through their professions, such as medical doctors, counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrist. For his part, Fr. Cabading said that lay people likewise help in the actual event of the liberation, such as those who join the priest in fervent prayer, those who hold down the oppressed while being liberated, and those who provide whatever assistance is needed. “Any person’s skill or spiritual grace, when offered to help in the ministry, aids us in the liberation,” Fr. Cabading said.

Fighting Susceptibility
Fr. Syquia said that people must work toward being in a continued “state of grace.” Living a life of righteousness and grace is one’s best weapon in protecting oneself from evil. This includes, according to Fr. Syquia, the regular observance of Sacraments, the proper use of sacramentals like the Holy Water and the St. Benedict’s medal, as well as a constant turning away from sin. A fervent devotion to the God, the Virgin Mary, and the angels is likewise required.

Fr. Cabading likewise noted that there are four main ways by which people become susceptible to oppression:

1. Habitual, unrepented sin
2. Deep emotional trauma
3. Exposure to the occult, which is accidental or caused by someone already exposed to it
4. Direct contact with evil spirits, i.e. those who communicate with evil spirits

From national to international
The conference was originally intended to be a national affair, as it was in the first conference in 2016. The 2017 gathering, though, welcomed priests from various countries, notably the United States, Indonesia, and Taiwan. “Fr. Syquia was invited to talk about the ministry in the United States, and when the priests found out that the Philippines was hosting this, they requested to join,” Fr. Cabading said.

The conference drew in 163 participants. A total of forty-five Philippine dioceses were represented in the conference, with the Diocese of Novaliches sending the most number of delegates (10), followed by the Diocese of Cabanatuan and the Diocese of Imus, at 7 each. For religious orders, the Order of Saint Augustine produced the largest delegation, at 16 priests. For international participants, the United States sent 10 representatives.