The 41st annual SCRC Catholic Renewal Convention kicked off Aug. 31 with praise music that got the crowd inside the Anaheim Convention Center arena moving — and then swiftly changed gears to focus on the reality of evil in our world today, and the need for exorcism to respond to it. Drawing thousands of attendees from around the world, the convention offered multiple tracks, from a children’s program and a teen conference to the expected selection of workshops on the power of God, healing relationships, and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. Additionally, this year’s convention offered two tracks focusing on exorcism and deliverance ministry (a general track and a pastoral track). Those workshops were a far cry from the sensationalistic Hollywood versions of exorcism that have been hitting the silver screen recently. “It’s not all about high drama,” said Father Gary Thomas, exorcist for the Diocese of San Jose and the subject of the book (and film of the same name) “The Rite.” “The sense of the horrific is not at the heart of exorcism,” he added. “Healing is at the heart of exorcism.” Father Thomas — who is also the pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Saratoga — went on to note that 80 percent of the people he meets with (to discern whether they have a demonic attachment) are survivors of sexual abuse by parents, siblings, extended family or neighbors. He also said that the vast majority of the people who come to see him are struggling with mental health challenges, not demonic influence. “Most,” he reiterated. “But not all.” Discernment is, perhaps, the most time-consuming responsibility of an exorcist. Speaker after speaker explained that potential natural causes for various issues must be ruled out before preternatural causes can be seriously considered. After undergoing intense discernment, explained Diocese of Madrid exorcist Father Jose Antonio Fortea, author of the book “Interview With an Exorcist,” “I am sure when I say to someone, ‘You are possessed.’ In some cases, I am not sure when I say, ‘You are not possessed.’”He values the input of the team he works with in these cases, and also assists the person to connect with another exorcist for a sort of spiritual second opinion. After all, the priest said simply, people can make errors. Why the sudden interest in exorcism? Well, convention speakers pointed out, if one believes that the interest in exorcism — or the need for it — is new, one has simply not been paying attention. After all, the Old Testament makes reference to the casting out of demons. And in the New Testament, Jesus holds two primary roles in his public ministry: teacher and healer. As a healer, he not only restores sight and raises the dead, but also casts out demons. For centuries, the church — and the society surrounding it — accepted the need for exorcism (exorcist was even a minor order). In recent decades, however, the idea of exorcism has fallen out of favor, with many people declaring that they don’t believe in satan or hell. But in 2004, Pope John Paul II called on each diocese across the world to appoint an exorcist — a step he took in response to growing occult and satanic activity across Europe. (Not all dioceses have been swift to follow that command; though there are nearly 200 dioceses across the United States, for instance, there are fewer than 70 known exorcists in this country.) Yet while plenty dismiss the idea of the devil and demonic attachment, “It’s real,” said Father Jeffrey Grob, exorcist for the Archdiocese of Chicago. “What makes it cunning by the evil one is the air of unreality. ‘Come on — it’s 2012! You’re going to worship Satan? He doesn’t even exist!’”Admittedly, these speakers — who also included the exorcist for the Diocese of Oakland and the retired exorcist for the Diocese of Little Rock — were preaching to the choir. In addition to clergy attending the workshops, many of the laypeople are already involved in prayer groups and deliverance ministries, helping free people from demonic affliction. (While only clergy can be exorcists, laypeople can pray certain prayers of deliverance.) Rachel Arias, who traveled from Fresno to attend the convention with her cousin Cora Trujillo from Fuller, Tex., is part of a prayer group that has worked with many suffering people. In a break between workshops, she spoke about one young man who tumbled to the floor, growling ferociously, seemingly not conscious of his own actions. “But you’re not afraid, because you know you’re with the Lord,” Arias said, noting that the young man quieted, relaxed, and opened his eyes after prayers of deliverance were prayed over him. “To me, it’s amazing,” she said. {gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2012/0907/scrc/{/gallery}