"What are the greatest needs of the church today?" This was the question that Pope Paul VI put at a general audience on 15 November 1972. He himself gave the answer, which he said should not surprise them as being over simple or even superstitious and unreal: "One of the greatest needs is defense from that evil, which is called the devil."
For when our first parents capitulated to the Tempter and sinned against God, they brought the whole of humanity with them under the domination of the Enemy. Nevertheless God still loved man so much that he promised to send his very own Son, who would crush the head of the Serpent (Gen 3:15; John 3:16). Thus the Son of God appeared to "undo the work of the devil" (1Jn 3:8), to "overthrow the prince of the world" (Jn 12:31), to "rescue us from the ruling force of darkness." and to "transfer us into his kingdom" (Col 1:13).
"The fight with Satan begun in the desert," Pope John Paul II commented on June 3, 1998, "continues throughout the life of Jesus. One of his typical activities is that of exorcist and the people cry out in admiration: He commands even unclean spirits and they obey him" (Mk 1:27). This is how Peter sums up the ministry of Jesus: "God has anointed him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and because God was with him, Jesus went about doing good and curing all who had fallen into the power of the devil" (Acts 10:38).
Jesus was equally successful in preparing his disciples for his ministry, so that they returned jubilant over their victory, "Lord, even the devils submit to us when we use your name" (Lk 10:17). After his resurrection he commissioned his apostles: "Go out to the whole world and proclaim the gospel to all creation; lay hands on the sick and heal them, and cast out devils in my name" (Mk 16:17-18). He promised that they would receive the power of the Holy Spirit to do this (Acts 1:18), and assured them that he would be with them always (Mt 28:20), so that they would thus perform the same works as he did himself, and even greater works (Jn 14:12). And so after Pentecost, as they preached everywhere, Jesus, now seated at the right hand of God, worked with them and confirmed the word by the signs that accompanied it (Mk 16:20).
In the early Church the Christians were aware that theirs was a spiritual warfare. In spite of persecutions from the Emperors, and other trials, they were conscious that their archenemy was Satan. The Church on its part was faithful to the divine commission, both in its teaching and in its liturgical and pastoral practice. The exorcist did hold a specific ministry of exorcising the catechumens at the beginning of every baptismal catechesis, as he led them to renounce the pagan world and the world of magic. But, "in our days," as the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith observes, "the characteristic ministry of the exorcist is not more than a very occasional service ... for the Church no longer attaches the same importance to exorcism, as in the early Centuries" (Christian Faith and Demonology).
Unfortunately today people are allowing themselves to be oppressed by the devil in a variety of ways and letting themselves be caught up in the ideological seductions of fashionable errors, which are cracks through which the devil can easily penetrate and work upon the human mind (Pope Paul VI). In early 1997, the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, carried a series of six well-documented articles on 'Sects and Satanic Cults'. These only confirmed the conclusions of the two seminars I attended on 'Satanism' organized by the Luther and Catholic Churches in East Berlin in 1995, that Satanism has succeeded Communism as the greatest scourge of Christian Europe today. A statement of the Italian Bishop's Conference corroborates this. "We are currently witnessing a rebirth of divination, sorcery, witchcraft and magic often mixed with a superstitious use of religion." Macumba, a form of spiritism, has become so widespread in Brazil as to become the scourge of what is the largest Catholic country in the world.
What has then been the response of the Church in such an alarming situation? It has been the same as the admonition given by St. Peter, "Be calm but vigilant, because your enemy the devil is on the prowl" (1 Peter 5:8). Already in 1971, Pope Paul VI cautioned about "some preternatural thing, which has come into the world precisely to dispute, to suffocate the fruits of the (Vatican) Ecumenical Council," and on 20 June 1972, he warned about the smoke of Satan entering the temple of God. Pope John Paul II is more optimistic. "The Church shares in Christ's victory over the devil," he said on August 20 1986. "The Church exercises such victorious power through faith in Christ and prayer, which, in specific cases, can assume the form of exorcism."
Nevertheless, there is not a single exorcist appointed in many countries, and even in many dioceses of the other countries, and so many of our people in diverse needs go either to unquestionable spiritists or to questionable neopentecostal healers. Fortunately the Catholic Charismatic Renewal has stepped in the gap in this spiritual warfare through a renewed ministry of deliverance, one of its greatest contributions to the Catholic Church today. Far from competing with the official ministry of Exorcism, this ministry rather complements and supports it, as many exorcists have told me personally.
Many priests and lay people in the Charismatic Renewal are today exercising this ministry, under ecclesial authority, which becomes activated by the emergence and manifestation of the charism of deliverance, when they come in contact with and pray for persons that are presumably under demonic influence. Like all the other charisms of the Holy Spirit, this specific charism too is needed for the New Pentecost in the Church prayed for by Pope John XXIII in preparation for Vatican Council II, and is necessary for the New Evangelization of the world called for by Pope John Paul II in 1983, in order that the New Millennium may usher in "a great springtime for Christianity" (RM 1990).
It is becoming clearer, however, ever since September 11, 2001, that the ministry of deliverance should progress from praying just for individuals or families, to interceding like Abraham for a whole city, and like Moses for a whole nation. Today, the Church is realizing the necessity of such a prayer of solidarity (Mt. 18:19,20), and is recognizing the urgency of standing united in intercession, for the protection and deliverance of the whole Church and the whole world, with the prayer of Jesus himself, its head, "Father, protect them from the Evil One. Father, may they all be one" (Jn 17:15,21), just as, all the time Peter was in prison, the whole Church prayed to God for him unremittingly (Acts 12:5).
We need to pray, in a way we have never done before, the Lord's Prayer, "But deliver us from the evil one" (Mt 6:13); and the prayer of the Church in the Mass, "Deliver us, Lord, from every evil and grant us peace." Perhaps we need also to recite Pope Leo XIII's prayer to the Archangel Michael, as our Holy Father encouraged us to do on April 24, 1994, "to obtain help in the battle against the forces of darkness and against the spirit of this world." Let us not forget too that, just as Our Lady of Fatima helped in the victory over the antichrist of Communism, so she will also help the Church to be victorious over other more aggressive antichrists of today. For, even though it seems as if "the whole world lies in the power of the Evil One" (1Jn 5:19), Jesus has said and continues to assure us: "But be brave: I have conquered the world" (Jn 16:33).