Parish ministry is very challenging and diverse. Whatever it is, it certainly isn’t routine and boring. When I get out of bed in the morning, I never know what the day will bring.
A few months ago I heard that one of our teenage altar boys had suddenly been struck dumb. Someone I’ll call “Jose” was visiting relatives in a neighboring parish, 45 minutes from Zorritos, helping with their banana trees. Jose was 17 years old, seemed to be a normal teenager, who was pretty active in our parish. He went to bed in his grandmother’s home.
During the night he awakened. The cows outside began to make a lot of noise, which was most unusual. He tried to get out of bed to check, but something was weighing him down. He saw a dark figure and a voice said: “You’ll be blind and mute.” He asked God for help, and while he reached for his rosary, the sense of oppression left him. He discovered he could still see, but not speak.
What do you do with something like this? The local doctors didn’t know what to do, and psychological resources are limited.
When I arrived in Peru for my first term of service in 1970, I didn’t believe or disbelieve in evil spirits. I simply didn’t aver to them. They weren’t part of my conscious framework. I’d read Biblical authors claiming evil spirits were a symbol of evil and a primitive way of describing psychological illness. At any rate I didn’t attach much importance to the subject.
Then I ran into people like Jose. If the church couldn’t help them, I knew where they would go: “to the curanderos.” The word means “healer,” and some “curanderos” simply give herbs as a form of healing. The herbs generally do not hurt you, and some are helpful. I take some every day.
Practically nobody here calls himself a “brujo,” or “witch.” But I’ve come to believe that most of the curanderos are brujos, involved in the occult with its rituals and ceremonies.
After seeing a doctor, Jose’s parents, like most people here, were taking Jose to an alleged curandero. Fortunately, Jose is active in the parish, knows better, and protested. When I saw him I supported him very strongly. He struggled, could make noises, but couldn’t speak a single word, even though he is very bright. He had to write everything.
The first steps in any such ministry is inner healing. It’s very healing to bring the image and the presence of Jesus into all of our painful memories, to bring the light of the world into all our wounds and darkness. That’s what we prayed for.
Working here with a gifted team of parishioners, we believed the problem was not just psychological, but demonic. It certainly was not full demonic possession, which is extremely rare, and requires the authority of the bishop to carry out an exorcism.
We believed that this was simply the more common infestation or obsession of an evil spirit in a part of his life, perhaps taking advantage of an inner wound or scar to do more damage.
And so after praying for inner healing, we prayed for deliverance from any power or presence of what Jesus calls “the Prince of this World.” We ordered him in Jesus’ name to leave. We knew that we had to get results quickly or Jose would end up in the hands of a suspect curandero, making a bad situation worse. It’s like carrying a sick hen to be cured by a wolf.
The results were not instantaneous but were very quick. Within about three days of the first prayer, he was able to communicate intelligibly. We had three sessions in about two weeks, and each time he got more fluent. Today you wouldn’t know he ever had a problem.
Jose was in the final stage of our two-year preparation program to receive his first Communion and the sacrament of confirmation. We encouraged him to immediately receive Communion, and this was a great help. He has since received confirmation from the bishop and is doing fine.
St. John says, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” (1 John 3:8). I believe that’s what he wants to do through his church.
Unlike people in the United States, almost everyone here believes in the reality of evil spirits and takes them very seriously.
They have no problem believing what Pope Paul IV said: “Evil is not merely the lack of something, but an effective agent, a living, spiritual being, perverted and perverting. A terrible reality. … It is contrary to the teaching of the Bible and church to refuse to recognize the existence of a reality. … or to explain it as a pseudo reality, a conceptual and fanciful personification of the unknown causes of our misfortune.”
The people here believe in evil spirits, but when they have a problem they quickly go to the witches and not to the church for a remedy. And the fact is the church doesn’t do much for them.
Most parishes here don’t really deal with these demonic problems. It’s surely not my favorite ministry. It’s something I’d rather not get involved in. But as I said, parish ministry is not boring and routine, but very challenging and diverse. Maybe that’s why I love it and have spent 45 years of my life involved in it.
Thank you for supporting our ministry here with your prayers and gifts. Please pray for Jose and countless others who all need the healing, liberating touch of Jesus, the savior and light of the world.
Pray that the power of Christ’s death and resurrection may be setting our people free, that his saving paschal mystery is operating in their lives, bringing pardon, peace, healing, salvation and freedom!
That’s also our prayer for you as we remember you in every Mass.
Msgr. Donald Gorski is a priest of the Diocese of Charleston who ministers to the people of Zorritos, Peru.
How to help
To contribute materially to this mission, checks may be sent to Msgr. Robert Kelly, P.O. Box 1257, Folly Beach, SC 29439. The Society of St. James will forward the checks through its bank, avoiding the Peruvian Post Office. Only one acknowledgement will be sent, and it will come directly from Zorritos.