A Special Interview with renowned exorcist Father Elias Vella OFM, from the Archdiocese of Malta, who shares his incredible ministerial journey
As an exorcist for the Diocese of Malta and at healing and deliverance retreats all over the world, I have been blessed to witness the healing and deliverance of many souls from demonic possession, oppression and temptation.
I come from a small Catholic country, the Island of Malta in the Mediterranean Sea. As a Theology lecturer in the seminary for 24 years, I did not always believe in the existence of the Devil because I was influenced by Dutch and German theologians who doubted the reality of Satan. However, when I became involved in the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, people began to come to me with problems that were connected with the occult, satanism and the Devil. I didn’t know what to do. I could see it wasn’t all in their mind and I wanted to help them, so I went to the bishop and asked if I should send them to him. He told me to go and study the issue and discern what God was calling me to do. The more I examined the issue, the more I could see the workings of the Devil and I no longer doubted. I was interested, not for myself, but because people were in need, so the Bishop asked me to become the exorcist for the diocese.
Possession is when a demon takes control of someone, so that they are no longer free to think for themselves. Their will, emotions and intelligence become subject to demonic influence. However, a demon cannot take over the soul and cannot force someone to sin because you can only sin if you are free to do as you will, you know what you are doing and you want to do it. During an exorcism, a person can make sinful gestures, for example call out blasphemies or break a rosary, but these are not sins because the person is not in control of their body.
In an exorcism, the exorcist (who is a specially trained priest) orders the demon to leave the body of the person in the name of God and by the power of the Church. It is often a struggle because the demon does not want to leave the body where he has made a home, but God is more powerful than the Devil, so he must leave in the end. Not all demonic attacks involve possession.
Although, I have personally encountered many cases of demonic possession requiring exorcism, this is because I am an exorcist, so they come to me. It is actually very rare. Many people who think they need exorcism do not. They need other spiritual, psychological and physical help. Although I often visit other countries, I can only perform an exorcism outside my diocese with the permission of the local bishop. If I don’t have that, then I can pray a deliverance prayer, but not the exorcism liturgy. Every exorcism is unique. The Devil is intelligent and cunning, so varies his techniques to elude and deceive us.
These are a couple of the people that have been successfully delivered from possession during an exorcism.
During a healing Mass in the Czech Republic, I invited the congregation to wash their faces with holy water to remind them of their need for purification. After washing her face, this girl took a crucifix and started to beat me with it. I couldn’t respond violently, but when others had restrained her, we offered her an exorcism. It was very difficult because her father had consecrated her to the Devil in a satanic ceremony where she was smeared with the blood of animals.
In Brazil, a fragile 16-year-old girl went into a trance during the Mass. When we prayed over her, she became so violent that she could break a chair with no effort and a strong man couldn’t hold her. Her possession had begun with superstitious use of idols, but despite the difficulty, she was able to be delivered with the aid of Our Lord in the Eucharist.
We are all tempted or oppressed. Even Our Lord and Our Lady were tempted many times not to do the will of the Father, but did not succumb. Oppression is when the Devil targets our weak spots with an attack. It is not the same as possession. Often, someone who is spiritually attacked also suffers from psychological problems. It isn’t always easy to understand what originates from a spiritual problem and what is a psychological problem.
Often, it needs a multi-pronged response. Prayer, grace from the sacraments, therapy and appropriate medical help may all be needed to fully recover. I pray for both healing and deliverance. The sacraments are the most powerful weapons against the Devil’s attacks. The Devil fears the sacraments, particularly the Sacrament of Penance because it directly confronts sin and the temptation to sin. When penitents acknowledge and renounce their sins, and ask for forgiveness from a loving God, they are rejecting the deceptions of the Devil who tries to entice us into thinking that our sins are not wrong; or that we don’t need forgiveness; or that God does not love us; or that He would not mercifully forgive us. Receiving absolution delivers a fatal blow to the Devil’s hold over us. This is why we must not neglect regular Confession.
The Eucharist is a powerful weapon against the Devil because Our Lord is giving Himself to us in humility and love. These are two things that Devil make the devil suffer. He is the opposite, full of pride and hate. Because Satan has an insatiable desire for power, he will never understand how God could offer Himself to us. Therefore, when we receive Our Lord in the Eucharist, or adore Him in front of the Eucharist, the Devil flees, because He cannot bear it and wants to escape. So, when there is no exorcist to help people who are disturbed, they should seek the presence of the Lord in the Eucharist.
Lord God almighty, grant me Your grace by the merits of the passion, death and resurrection of Your beloved Son, Jesus Christ. I accept Him as my Lord and Savior. Protect me, my family, and all the surroundings I live in, by the Precious Blood of Jesus. I renounce and bind all the evil influences that disturb me, by the powerful name of Jesus and by the power of His Precious Blood and chain them at the foot of the Cross. Amen.
Father Elias Vella is the official exorcist and president for the Archdiocese of Malta. He is the author of several books including “Satana” and “Diavoli e esorcismi”. This is an exclusive interview given by Father Elias for Shalom Media. To watch the episode visit:https://shalomworld.org/episode/the-devil-cannot-make-you-sin-rev-fr-elias-vella-ofm
It was a stormy night. Sister Faustina bowed her face to the ground and prayed the Litany of the Saints. Toward the end of the Litany, such drowsiness overcame her that she couldn’t finish the prayer. She immediately got up and prayed, “Jesus, calm the storm, for Your child is unable to pray any longer, and I am heavy with sleep.” With these words, she threw the window open, not even securing it with hooks. Sister Fabiola said to her, “Sister, what are you doing!? The wind will surely tear the window loose!” But Sister Faustina asked her to sleep in peace. At once, the storm completely subsided. The next day, the sisters were talking about the sudden calming of the storm, not knowing what had really happened. And Sister Faustina thought to herself: “Only Jesus and Faustina know what it means…” Such was the trust Saint Faustina had in Jesus. No wonder He appeared to her and gave her the mission of Divine Mercy for the whole world, with the instruction to inscribe the words: “JESUS I TRUST IN YOU.” She abandoned herself to Him completely, just like a child. Once, during Holy Mass, she had a miraculous vision. Jesus appeared as a one-year-old child and asked her to take Him in her arms. When she had taken Him in her arms, Infant Jesus cuddled up close to her bosom and said, “It is good for Me to be close to your heart…because I want to teach you spiritual childhood. I want you to be very little because when you are little, I carry you close to My Heart, just as you are holding Me close to your heart right now." Spiritual childhood is often misunderstood as naïveté or excessive sentimentality. However, it involves a total surrender to our heavenly Father's providential care—total abandonment of our own plans, opinions, and self-will—and a radical trust in God. Can we, too, ask God to give us the grace to accept—like a little child—all that He asks of us in this life? As we do, can we trust, like Saint Faustina, that the Lord will not abandon us, even for a moment?
She was diagnosed with chronic OCD, and put on meds for a lifetime. Then, something unexpected happened. In the 1990s, I was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. The doctor prescribed me medication and told me I would have to take them for the rest of my life. Some people think that mental health issues happen because you lack faith, but there was nothing wrong with my faith. I had always deeply loved God and relied on Him in all things, but I also felt an abiding disabling guilt. I had not been able to shake off the belief that everything that was wrong with the world was my fault. I had a Law degree, but my heart had never been there. I had taken up law to impress my mother, who thought my choice of teaching as a profession wasn’t good enough. But I had married and given birth to my first child just before I finished it, then gone on to have seven beautiful children, so I had spent more time learning to be a mother than working in law. When we moved to Australia, the law was different, so, I went back to university to finally study my first love, Teaching. But even when I got a job doing what I loved, I felt that I was trying to justify my existence by earning money. Somehow, I didn’t feel that looking after my family and nurturing the people entrusted to me was good enough. In fact, with my crippling guilt and feeling of inadequacy, nothing ever felt enough. Totally Unexpected Because of our family size, it wasn’t always easy to get away on a holiday, so we were excited when we heard about the Carry Home in Pemberton where payment was a donation of what you could afford. It had a beautiful country setting close to forests. We planned to go for a weekend family retreat. They also had a prayer and worship group in Perth. When I joined, I was made to feel very welcome. There, at one of the retreats, something totally unexpected and overwhelming happened. I had just received prayer when I suddenly fell to the ground. Rolled up on the floor in a fetal position, I screamed and screamed and screamed. They carried me out onto this rickety old wooden verandah outside and continued to pray until eventually, I stopped screaming. This was totally unsought and unexpected. But I knew that it was deliverance. I just felt empty as if something had left me. After the retreat, my friends continued to check up on me and come to pray over me, asking for Mary’s intercession that the gifts of the Holy Spirit would become manifest in me. I felt so much better that after a week or two, I decided to reduce my dose of medication. Within three months, I had stopped taking the medication and felt better than I ever had. Melting Away I no longer felt the need to prove myself or pretend that I was better than I was. I didn’t feel that I had to excel in all things. I felt grateful for the gift of life, my family, my prayerful community and this tremendous connection with God. Freed of the need to justify my existence, I realized I could not justify my existence. It’s a gift–life, family, prayer, connection with God–these are all gifts, not something you are ever going to earn. You accept it and you thank God. I became a better person. I didn’t have to show off, compete, or arrogantly insist that my way was the best. I realized I didn’t have to be better than the other person because it didn’t matter. God loves me, God cares for me. Out of the grip of my disabling guilt, I have since realized that “If God didn’t want me, He would have made someone else.” My relationship with my mother had always been ambivalent. Even after becoming a mother, I was still struggling with these feelings of ambivalence. But this experience changed that for me. As God chose Mary to bring Jesus into the world, He had chosen Mary to help me on my way. My issues in the relationship with my mother, and subsequently with the Holy Mother, slowly melted away. I felt like John at the foot of the Cross when Jesus told him: “Behold your Mother.” I have come to know Mary as the perfect mother. Now, when my mind fails, the Rosary kicks in to rescue me! I never realized how much I needed her until I made her an indispensable part of my life. Now, I couldn’t imagine stepping away.
There is a poetic meditation of an early twentieth-century Greek novelist named Nikos Kazantzakis that I keep on my nightstand when Advent comes around every year. He pictures Christ as a teenager, watching the people of Israel from a distant hilltop, not yet ready to begin his ministry but acutely, painfully sensitive to the longing and suffering of His people. The God of Israel is there among them—but they don’t know it yet. I was reading this to my students the other day, as I do every year at the start of Advent, and one of them said to me after class: “I’ll bet that’s how Jesus feels now too.” I asked him what he meant. He said: “You know, Jesus, sitting there in the tabernacle, and us just walking past like He isn’t even there.” Ever since, I’ve had this new image in my Advent prayers of Jesus, waiting in the Tabernacle, looking out over His people—hearing our groans, our pleas, and our cries. Waiting... Somehow, this is the way God chooses to come to us. The birth of the Messiah is THE KEY EVENT IN ALL HUMAN HISTORY, and yet, God wanted it to take place ‘so quietly that the world went about its business as if nothing had happened.’ A few shepherds noticed, and so did the magi (and we could even mention Herod, who noticed for all the wrong reasons!). Then, apparently, the whole thing was forgotten. For a time. Somehow…there must be something in the waiting that is good for us. God chooses to wait for us. He chooses to make us wait for Him. And when you think about it in this light, the whole history of salvation becomes a history of waiting. So, you see, there’s this simultaneous sense of urgency—that we need to answer God’s call and that we need Him to answer our call, and soon. “Answer me, Lord, when I call to you,” the psalmist says. There’s something so brazen about this verse that it’s charming. There’s an urgency in the Psalms. But there is also this sense that we must learn to be patient and wait—wait in joyful hope—and find God’s answer in the waiting.
Q – Why did Jesus Christ have to die for us? It seems cruel that the Father would require the death of His only Son in order to save us. Wasn’t there some other way? A – We know that Jesus’ death forgave us of our sins. But was it necessary, and how did it accomplish our salvation? Consider this: if a student in school were to punch his classmate, the natural consequence would be a certain punishment—perhaps detention, or maybe being suspended. But if that same student were to punch a teacher, the punishment would be more severe—perhaps being expelled from the school. If that same student were to punch the President, they would likely end up in jail. Depending on the dignity of who is offended, the consequence would be greater. What, then, would be the consequence of offending the all-holy, all-loving God? He Who created both you and the stars deserves nothing less than the worship and adoration of all Creation—when we offend Him, what is the natural consequence? Eternal death and destruction. Suffering and alienation from Him. Thus, we owed God a debt of death. But we could not repay it—because He is infinitely good, our transgression caused an infinite chasm between us and Him. We needed someone infinite and perfect but also human (since they would have to die to settle the debt). Only Jesus Christ fit this description. Seeing us abandoned in an unpayable debt that would lead to eternal doom, out of His great love, He became man precisely so that He could pay back our debt on our behalf. The great theologian Saint Anselm wrote an entire treatise entitled, Cur Deus Homo? (Why did God become Man?), and concluded that God became man so that He could pay back the debt we owed but could not pay, so to reconcile us to God in a Person Who Himself is the perfect union of God and humanity. Consider this too: if God is the source of all life, and sin means that we turn our back on God, then what are we choosing? Death. In fact, Saint Paul says that “the wages of sin are death” (Romans 6:23). And sin brings about the death of the whole person. We can see that lust can lead to STDs and broken hearts; we know that gluttony can lead to an unhealthy lifestyle, envy leads to dissatisfaction with the gifts God has given us, greed can cause us to overwork and self-indulge, and pride can rupture our relationships with one another and with God. Sin, then, is truly deadly! It takes a death, then, to restore us to life. As an ancient Holy Saturday homily put it from the perspective of Jesus, “Look at the spittle on my face, in order to restore you to that first divine inbreathing at creation. See the blows on my cheeks, which I accepted in order to refashion your distorted form to my own image. See the scourging of my back, which I accepted in order to disperse the load of your sins which was laid upon your back. See my hands nailed to the tree for a good purpose, for you, who stretched out your hand to the tree for an evil one.” Finally, I believe that His death was necessary to show us the depths of His love. If He had merely pricked His finger and shed a single drop of His Precious Blood (which would have been enough to save us), we would think that He didn’t love us all that much. But, as Saint Padre Pio said: “The proof of love is to suffer for the one you love.” When we behold the incredible sufferings that Jesus endured for us, we can never doubt for a moment that God loves us. God loves us so much that He would rather die than spend eternity without us. In addition, His suffering gives us comfort and consolation in our suffering. There is no agony and pain that we can endure that He hasn’t already gone through. Are you in physical pain? So was He. Do you have a headache? His Head was crowned with thorns. Are you feeling lonely and abandoned? All of His friends left Him and denied Him. Do you feel ashamed? He was stripped naked for all to jeer. Do you struggle with anxiety and fears? He was so anxious that He sweat blood in the Garden. Have you been so hurt by others that you cannot forgive? He asked His Father to forgive the men driving nails into His hands. Do you feel like God has abandoned you? Jesus Himself cried out: “O God, my God, why have You abandoned Me?” So we can never say: “God, you don’t know what I’m going through!” Because He can always respond: “Yes, I do, my beloved child. I’ve been there—and I am suffering with you right now.” What a consolation to know that the Cross has brought God near to those who suffer, that it has shown us the depths of God’s infinite love for us and the great lengths He would go to rescue us, and that it has paid back the debt of our sins so that we can stand before Him, forgiven and redeemed!
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