URBANA — The Rev. Vincent Lampert says he has literally stared evil in the face.
Lampert, pastor of St. Francis & St. Clare Catholic Church in Greenwood, Ind., is one of about 50 exorcists in the United States.
The priest shared his experiences with exorcisms and confronting the reality of evil during a talk Monday night at Foellinger Auditorium on the University of Illinois campus.
Msgr. Gregory Ketcham, director of St. John's Catholic Newman Center, said Lampert's message is an important one for the young people at the UI to hear.
"As Christians, we have always believed in the theology of personified evil," Ketcham said. "We have also believed more passionately in the power and victory of Jesus and how we are called to a personal friendship with him."
Lampert, 50, who gets about 10 calls or emails a week inquiring about exorcism, said it remains relevant in modern times.
"The goal of an exorcist is to help people see the face of God in their lives," he said.
He said more than half of the people who contact him about getting an exorcism are not Catholic.
Lampert said every bishop is authorized to perform the rite of exorcism and can bestow on priests the authority to perform that rite. He said his archbishop in Indianapolis asked Lampert to text him before performing exorcisms so the archbishop could pray for him and the person receiving the rite.
During the rite of exorcism, Lampert orders the demon to depart from the victim.
Unlike exorcists portrayed in films like "The Exorcist" or "The Rite," Lampert said, he doesn't perform exorcisms on possessed people in abandoned houses at midnight (they often take place in a chapel), and he hasn't seen the heads of possessed persons spinning around or vomiting green substances.
"And demons do not jump from one body to another like you see in films," he said.
When he performs exorcisms, he said, he summons the power of God to call on the evil spirit to leave the body of the possessed person.
But the Vatican-trained exorcist said he has experienced some unusual behavior over the years.
He described performing the rite on a woman with a deep voice said to be possessed by the demon Leviathan who exhibited animalistic behavior, including growling and snarling.
"She lunged at me like a wild dog," he said.
As Lampert completed the exorcism, the woman's voice changed from low to high as she recited the words, "Hail Mary, full of grace."
"The woman changed in front of me faster than I could snap my fingers," he said.
He said he once saw a possessed woman shake violently before she began to levitate about 4 or 5 inches above a chair during an exorcism.
"The devil, the father of all lies, uses trickery or deception," he said.
Lampert said he has also seen people speaking and understanding languages they had not previously known, a possessed person who ripped the stole the priest was wearing off his neck and stomped on it, people exhibiting what Lampert described as "superhuman strength," and a person with what Lampert called elevated perception: knowing information not previously known.
While some people believe that exorcisms are arelic of medieval times, Lampert told his audience that the Catholic Church still believes evil exists. The church's revised rite of exorcism went into effect, he said, in 1999, replacing a text that had been in use since 1614.
"The major theme of the New Testament is the clash between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of evil," he said.
Lampert added that most of the people who experience a spiritual crisis are not being possessed by a demon.
He said many physical or mental conditions, such as epilepsy, Tourette syndrome and schizophrenia, can mimic the symptoms of demonic possessions.
Lampert said he always requires the victim to have an evaluation with a mental-health professional, and then he confers with the professional on whether he or she found a medical cause or whether something was going on that can't be explained, before he proceeds. He said the overall goal is to give the person the help he or she truly needs.
"Psychology and religion need not be at odds with one another because the overall goal is to provide relief to the person," he said.