The Malta Independent 14 July 2024, Sunday
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‘She started to spit blood and swear at me’ – exorcist

Sabrina Zammit Sunday, 29 January 2023, 08:00 Last update: about 2 years ago

The woman’s face was covered in blood, as the priest prayed alongside her, in the presence of the woman’s husband.

“She started to spit and swear at me,” he recalled. “Or better, it was the bad spirit that had possessed her that was spitting at us. She became more aggressive when I started sprinkling holy water on her, but she later calmed down.”

The blood was coming out of her forehead, and it only stopped “when I started praying”.

The scene above is not taken from a horror movie. And the priest who witnessed it is Fr John Vella, one of a number of exorcists whose job is to deal with such situations, which can become unpredictable.

You never know what is going to happen, he said in an interview with The Malta Independent on Sunday.

In this particular incident, some of the blood and spit ended up on Fr Vella’s stole.

The story did not end there. Sometime later, the blood reappeared on the stole that Fr Vella was wearing when he was taking part in a TV programme.

“I remember I went on a particular programme on TV where I was speaking about exorcism and I was wearing the same stole that I had used on the day of the exorcism I told you about. For some reason the outline of the blood filled spit stain had reappeared on the stole,” he said.

A few days later the stain had disappeared on its own.

In another occasion, Fr Vella said that during an exorcism session the victim felt as if he was being lifted in the air by these spirits. He was holding on to the arm chair with great strength so as not to be pulled away, Fr Vella said.

“When I ask what they feel during these instances, they tell me that they feel as if they are on an altar being sacrificed,” he said.

Fr Vella said his first mass in 1986 and has been an exorcist for the past 17 years. The Diocesan Commission on Occult and Satanism has been set up for 27 years.

Asked why he chose exorcism as a profession, the priest said that it is a vocation and he was called upon for the position by the Commission.

In explaining his pastoral path, Fr Vella said that at present he is assigned to the Franciscan Minor Capuchin Fraternity at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish Church, San Gwann.

He successfully studied for the licentiate in Clinical Pastoral Theology at the Istituto Internazionale di Teologia Pastorale Sanitaria in Rome. The Commission chose him as an Auxiliary Exorcist and his appointment was approved by then Archbishop Joseph Mercieca, in 2003. He was appointed as an exorcist by Mgr Mercieca with a decree dated 1 July 2005.

It is to be noted that all clergy, from the rank of archbishop upwards, are automatically deemed as exorcists.

Fr Vella’s name was mentioned in the media a few weeks ago as he was summoned by the courts of justice to testify in what has become known as the “demonic rape trial”.

In his testimony he told a judge he saw no demonic activity at a house where a man was accused of having manipulated a vulnerable family into performing depraved sex acts.

The 22-year-old was found guilty of exploiting the credulous nature of a dysfunctional family and later sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Asked why he thinks he was called to witness, the priest said that this was because the court wanted to establish whether there had been any supernatural elements connected with the case.


Recognising a possessed person

“There is a fine line between mental illness and being possessed,” Fr Vella said, adding that it is important for exorcists to keep their psychological knowledge constantly updated.

He said that the Commission meets on a monthly basis, during which experiences are shared. Fr Vella said that although he is visually impaired he uses special glasses to read several psychological articles, apart from having several talks with psychologists to keep himself informed of developments.

When asked to intervene in occasions when his services are needed, Fr Vella said that the first thing he does is “listen to them (the person suspected of being possessed) by communicating with them”.

“Normally when there is a demon or a bad spirit present in the body, the first tell-tale sign that I am communicating with the supernatural is a voice change,” he said. The priest then asks whether the “spirit” feels comfortable is his presence, and the answer is always no.

When this happens, the exorcist tries his best to then force the possessed person to speak out the name of the evil spirit. There are times when the spirit’s name is uttered, and when this happens the exorcist then prays for the spirit’s expulsion from the body of the possessed person. Knowing the name of the evil spirit gives the exorcist more power to expel it, Fr Vella said.

He added that here in Malta it is very rare for him to come across a true possession, as most of the people who contact him to help are victims who seek to break the spell.

The priest explained that these people would mostly become affected after they, or a person who wishes them ill, would visit a fortune teller.

“Those people who visit the fortune tellers and want to wish their victim ill, usually visit these fortune tellers to cast a spell on them. They do so by taking stuff which personally belongs to the victim, such as photos, clothes and hair,” he said.

He said that people should avoid fortune tellers together with mediums as they could be cheated by their system since the spirits through which they could be contacting the supernatural could be lying about their identity.

People can also inherit spells from their ancestors, he said, as the latter might not have been freed of spells that were cast on them.


Spells and possessions

Asked how exorcists assure that the bad spirit actually left its host, he said that usually exorcists keep in touch with their clients.

“We make it a point to call them after some time, however usually they call us themselves or meet by chance and they let us know that everything already feels so much better and they are experiencing a shift in their personal life,” he said.

He said that some people might have a fixation that they are possessed; however this is where science and religion come together and at this stage psychologists are called upon to intervene.

In explaining how people come to realise that they have come in contact with a bad spirit, he said that some might have dabbled with supernatural satanic rituals, while others might have started attending black masses.

“There are two types of Satanists,” he said, "those who are professionals in Satanism and meet in a group or invoke him alone at home, and then there are those who are amateurs and invoke the devil himself without fully knowing the consequences and without being fully involved in Satanism”.

He added that when one turns to the devil they are given three things which are “money, fun and power in their private life, but they later realise that there is no lasting happiness in the materialistic life”.

“Everyone has free will and thus can choose whichever path they want,” he said.

Fr Vella said that he had been called upon several times by people who attended a black mass, as they realised that they wanted to change their life.

Such people, at first, might feel scared to make the move as they might form part, or ended up forming part, without realizing, in free masonry, where their mates might not want them to leave the group as they might be scared that their identity is going to be revealed. Apart from that such people are also scared because other members of the group might attack them or their family since they know everything about everyone.

Asked why people might have chosen a satanic path, the priest said that they might have decided so for many reason such as wanting to try something new, filling an emotional void or after experiencing a lack of love in their life.

Some of the people brought to him are as young as 13 or 14. Some try stuff as the infamous Ouija Board and séance. He said that such teens might have taken this path as an act of rebellion “especially when they are coming from a Christian family”.

He said that although in the beginning they might feel scared, the process to talk to these youngsters is a very delicate one, “however once they start opening up they feel much better, especially after praying”.


The curing process

Fr Vella explained that one of the main cures used to combat these “bad spirits and spells” is prayer.

“I have met with several people who have experienced positive outcomes from prayer and they say themselves that they feel more relieved,” he said.

He said that part of the exorcism process entails telling the “victim” to pray in silence while he puts his hand on their head. He said these people say that they experience increasing heart palpitations, headaches or even pressure from his hand, although he tries to be as gentle as possible.

He said that the person has to feel and be ready to be cured, as some get in touch with him and ask for help while still not being convinced in the process itself.  In this case and in cases where the person feels forced to attend the sessions, it is very hard for the bad spirits to leave.

Apart from prayer, in the case of a possession, the person would need to say the name of the devil in order for the exorcist to directly send him to hell.

Asked whether he feels as if he might have failed when these sessions aren’t as fruitful, he said that he does not as in such cases the person “needs more time to realise that they need to become more available for God himself and good spirits”.



A Christian needs to remain close to the sacraments, especially confession, which needs to be fulfilled at least once a month, said Fr Vella when asked how such bad spirits episodes can be kept at bay.

Additionally they also need to go to Mass on Sundays and feasts and receive the Eucharist “for their own protection”.

Asked whether he ever feels scared when he is faced with a bad spirit, he said that he doesn’t as he knows that God is always present and will always defend him “because He wishes well”.

He said that all exorcists take extra precaution by worshipping and staying closer to their sacraments when they know they are going to be faced with a very bad spirit or situation.

The priest explained that unfortunately the people who end up being victim of a bad spirit are very sad in their private life and this serves as a window for evil to enter.

He said that some doctors and psychologists do not believe in bad spirits and refuse to attend sessions with their patients. Although some might refuse to attend because of limited time, others outright ask the priest not to bring evil presences in their life.

“When they tell me this (that they don’t believe in bad spirits), I ask them if you don’t believe in bad spirits how come you are scared of them?”

Fr Vella urged the general public not to mess with supernatural activity, even if they say they are non-believers “as you never know what can happen”. People who do not believe in God or are scared of the devil stand a higher risk for evil to enter their life.

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