Transcription at around 10:45 a.m. on a Saturday felt like a breeze until I reached the part of the interview discussing exorcism. Suddenly, I heard weird sounds instead of human voices. Was it a video glitch from the QuickTime Player? Pressing the “stop” button confirmed that the downloaded Zoom recording of the interview with Father Jeffrey Benitez Quintela, the chief exorcist of the Diocese of Antipolo, played something seemingly backmasked like low-pitched garbled words. The sound didn’t sync with the visuals.
Since the same thing happened with every QuickTime restart and in every attempt to open the video in other programs like VLC, I decided to reboot the laptop.
Having professionally edited film and video projects for more than two decades and counting, I thought this just needed minimal troubleshooting. Perhaps, it was just that technical nuisance that could randomly happen to any computer at some point. Post-reboot, the same creepy playback confronted me and the battery that started at about 50% was suddenly down to 24%. As if a whiff of inimical air passed right in front of me, a shiver down my spine prompted me to message Father Jeff informing him of my ordeal. This was followed by another message as I informed him that after the laptop reboot, the battery strangely went down to 4% without the usual warning from a dialog box, then the laptop instantly shut down. Pressing the “on” button did nothing. It was probably battery empty indeed… I kept hoping it was because a broken laptop in the middle of deadlines was going to drive me crazy.
“I knew it. Hahaha. Pray the Prayer to St. Michael and it will be ok.”
“Naglowbat naman po from 24 percent to battery empty. Magcharge din po muna ako, Father.”
“Hahahaha. Nakakatuwa ang kalaban.”
It was my first time to hear about the Prayer to St. Michael. With cold hands and feet heightened by fear and confusing thoughts, I made a simple Google search for it, and I uttered the prayer repeatedly.
St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle,
be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him we humbly pray;
and do thou, O Prince of the Heavenly host,
by the power of God, cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.
The bishop gave Father Jeff, a very jolly man with a knack for good jokes and even some card tricks for the entertainment of others, the instruction to go to a place in Antipolo for the possession case of a teen. As his very first exorcism case, it was clearly a baptism of fire for the relatively young priest. “Nagpa-albularyo siya in the past kaya may opening na siya and ang alam ko may ginalaw siyang puno na malapit sa bahay.”
For him, there was a mix of fear, anxiety, doubt, and questions like, “Can I really do this?”
Father Jeff heard the devil speak in Latin while inside the girl’s body. As an exorcist, he knew that speaking a foreign language not known to the victim was one of the signs of possession. The person’s voice was unusually low, and she was physically stronger than expected for her physique. The experience may not have involved levitation, banging door, or broken window (although he eventually came across them), but the mere hearing of the voice of the devil in the body of a human didn’t diminish the kind of fear any person, priest or not, would experience during such an encounter.
Father Jeff knew it’s typical for the devil to taunt the exorcist and use his unconfessed sins against him – and this was when he realized that even if one was weak, a sinner, or didn’t have enough training yet, what was important was lifting things up to God because “He shall be your strength. If you don’t trust God, you really can’t do things.” Even if he was new to exorcism, he knew that God was not new to this, so things would be alright. “Awa ng Diyos, after some time, I think after almost an hour, nagtagumpay naman ang Diyos.”
Case after case, Father Jeff learned more about the patterns in exorcism cases. The most typical of which was the unlikely but clearly manifested strength and heavy weight of the possessed body, alongside speaking in a language unknown to the victim (often in Latin, the language believed to be what demons understand the most), and vulgarity. “Talagang lahat na yata ng mura may mga na-encounter ako na ibabato sa iyo. Meron akong levitation na experience, hindi naman ganun kataas. Contortionist meron, yung sumisirko, tapos yung sumusuka nang marami.” Other priests also told him of their experiences with victims vomiting broken glass, nails, thumbtacks, and green slimy objects.
From a well-lit Zoom frame featuring a low-angle shot with the compelling figures of Sto. Nino and Padre Pio seemingly guarding his sides, then the image of the crucified Jesus empowering the top-middle of the frame, the approachably authoritative Father Jeff expressed how preparation for exorcism is crucial before the ritual. The exorcist usually wears a purple stola (stole). Aside from being worn during exorcism, the said color of stole is also used during Advent, Lent, confession, and funeral mass because it is the Catholic liturgical color for preparation, sacrifice, penance, and repentance. However, considering how exorcism cases may come at any time, it is also typical for the exorcist to wear his moving around clothes called the sutana (soutane), which is usually black – although priests in tropical countries are allowed to wear this daily wear in white in consideration to the hot, humid weather in the places where they serve. In non-tropical countries, priests are only allowed to wear this in black and the pope is the only one allowed to wear this in white. It is also possible that the priest may simply wear ordinary clothes when suddenly called for an exorcism case. “It’s not really what you wear. You try your best to wear the proper attire because they are made for them, but if it is not possible, what is really important is your character. Ang mahalaga ay yung pagkapari mo.”
Exorcism begins with a prayer of protection. The exorcist reads the Rite of Exorcism in full. Being in a spiritual battle means being armed with prayers, faith, and sacramentals including blessed exorcised oil, exorcised salt, and exorcised water, the Benedictine medal, and the crucifix. As insults are to be expected while commanding the devil to leave the victim’s body, it is important for the priest to confess his sins before facing the devil so his sins won’t be used against him. The priest also strategically observes the possessed body and how the demon reacts to what he says. In doing so, he can take note of the words that negatively affect the demon the most. When already in pain because of the power of God through prayers and the use of traditional weapons in spiritual warfare, the demon leaves. At this point, the priest looks for signs of liberation such as the victim being able to say the names of Jesus and Mary.
Usually, the victim is not aware and unable to remember anything during a possession. The person’s soul remains inside the body, but the soul is suppressed. “Kumbaga, parang blackout. Nandun pa rin, kaya lang na-takeover lang.” Father Jeff, switching between comic and serious, added how the person may possibly hear the exorcist if the demon allows it. “Although of course, hindi ko alam kung ano perfectly yung pakiramdam kasi hindi pa ko na-po-possess (jokingly grins). So more on yung suppression nga ng tao, and pagkatapos nun, mas malalaman mong na-possess talaga, kasi wala siyang natatandaan. Makakaramdam lang siya pagkatapos na napapagod, uhaw na uhaw, antok na antok.” After an exorcism, there would be no medical impact to the physical body of an essentially healthy person. However, the ordeal can possibly aggravate a victim’s prior medical condition.
An exorcism rite always ends with a thanksgiving prayer, then a cleansing prayer so that no negativities will cling on to any of those involved in the exorcism.
“Para hindi kami lapitan, hindi sumama samin. Sinong nasa likod mo?”
“Father naman, e. Huwag ganyan!”
“Hindi, hindi. Biro lang,” Father Jeff chuckled.
There are times when Father Jeff would feel the need to follow up by calling the victim or his or her family. He explained how a possession is not primarily dependent on the exorcist but the person himself or herself. Even if the devil is not that strong, if the person still anchors himself or herself to his or her anger, obsession, or other negativities, then the devil can hold on to something. “Kung yung tao ay willing bitawan lahat yun, kaya ng tao yun. So, for people who can fight, they don’t call the exorcist anymore. And that’s what we do. We teach people to fight because we are not always here. Matuto dapat silang harapin. Kasi kapag iniwan na namin, bahala na siya kung pababalikin niya o hindi. Being a priest, you’re really after the conversion of the person.”
After handling an exorcism case, Father Jeff typically goes by his day – business as usual. “It’s like, it’s just another day in the office.” When he feels hungry, he will eat. If he has a badminton schedule, he will go straight to the venue. If it’s already late at night, he simply goes to sleep.
With his hand noticeably touching his gold necklace featuring the Benedictine crucifix and Miraculous Medal, Father Jeff acknowledged how people often find it confusing what exorcism clearly means given its association with popular culture, especially its use in movies. Far from what people think that it is scary and that people should not dwell into it and they should not talk about it, exorcism is a ministry of the church – therefore, it is good. It does not only refer to possession of the devil in people. It is commanding the devil to get out of a certain person, place, or thing using the name of Jesus Christ alone and through the ministry of the church. He noted that once a person does not use the name of the Lord in driving away evil, then it is not a ministry of the church anymore. Some people outside the church can get rid of the devil even if not through the power of God. They can do it through other means. They can even do it through the power of another devil, a higher devil, since demons recognize hierarchy. If a higher devil commands a lower devil to leave, the lower devil leaves.
In every exorcism case, Father Jeff makes an initial assessment. In a complicated case, often involving a possessed person, he asks his colleagues or his trained staff to help him. In a non-serious case, he does the exorcism on his own. This is usually the situation when exorcising haunted houses or cursed things. Often, these places or items become haunted or cursed because of personalities intending to live in them through spells and other powers. Others use these places or objects in occultism. If someone was murdered, a baby was aborted, or other sinful acts were done in a house, bad spirits start lurking around. From Father Jeff’s experiences, about 80% of his exorcism cases involved disturbed houses and damned items, while only 5% involved people whose bodies were possessed by the devil. However, it is worth noting that depressed people are generally more prone to demonic disturbance (not necessarily possession). The devil can more easily enter these people and make their lives miserable. Some even get physically sick, yet no medical intervention can cure them. Statistics-wise, these cases are generally higher than possessions. An exorcist can help these people through counseling, pray over, and even closing of the third eye.
Father Jeff explained how the diablo won’t go tripping just about any person in the world. “Even if there are a million demons around us, they will not disturb us if we don’t open even at least a very small door for them to enter our lives.” According to him, those typically disturbed by the devil are the ones who go to the albularyo, consult feng shui experts, nagpapatawas, nagpapahula, use lucky charms, and give offerings such as candle, food, or animal blood to pacify entities. He added that these non-Catholic practices are not connected to God and they are usually involved in many of his exorcism cases. “Basically, anything that is not of God is of the devil. So, when you do something that is not of God, this becomes an opportunity for the devil.” The logic is, “If it is not from God, then it is from the enemy of God.” Father Jeff reiterated that there should be no middle ground. “It’s either you are fully for God or you are fully against God.”
Is it bad to come up with stories involving these characters like in cinema and in literature? Father Jeff explained, “If they are just informational, they should be alright for as long as people don’t continue the connections in real life because such would make it sinful. But to give the people information or awareness, even for movies about exorcism, they should be okay. Life is really about good vs. evil like in stories – whatever angle we look at it.”
Like what happened in his very first exorcism case, Father Jeff expressed how he encountered many victims of possession who knowingly or unknowingly opened themselves to the devil through exposure to preternatural powers, which, unlike supernatural occurrences that pertain to God’s works (miracles), refer to forces that are of the evil one. According to him, powers from the anting-anting to the kulam to the hurting of humans by preternatural entities are all true. Just as God’s miracles are beyond science, the devil is also able to do things that cannot be explained by science. The church acknowledges even the pagsasalin (inheriting preternatural powers usually from a family member) as real-life occurrences. For the church, if people don’t believe in these happenings and if they don’t believe in the existence of demons, then they also don’t believe in the gospel because the gospel clearly have stories involving these phenomena and involving the devil. Even Jesus encountered demons and the bible accounts them. In fact, demons prefer that people don’t believe in these things, especially if they don’t recognize their existence. Demons even get angry if people start to believe they exist. Father Jeff pointed out how the devil finds many ways to deceive people. Even superstitions such as the pagpag (don’t go straight home after visiting a wake to avoid bringing bad luck to the home) and the requirement to not take a bath after 3:00 p.m. of Good Friday confuse many people because they have been widely accepted traditions in the Philippines for many generations. “Sometimes, you don’t know if it came from the church or not. Consider the do’s of the church because the don’ts are usually superstitions. We all grew up with those. They are not right. They are not true.”
With his hand wrapped around his Benedictine necklace once more, Father Jeff emphasized the importance of understanding how the devil uses deception in people. He noted that people should realize that sometimes, even though they would automatically think their problem was a haunted house or a jinxed object, especially if they saw preternatural elements around their houses or a lot of things got broken inside their homes, these individuals could have knowingly or unknowingly opened themselves to the devil who deceived them to think it was something else around them that was the problem. Sometimes, demons would even make people believe that the unusual things happening in their midst were simply from their imagination because this would better suggest that they didn’t acknowledge the gospel. There could be instances when the problem was their mindset, action, or even lifestyle that was not in the way of the good – attracting the devil more into their midst. Sometimes, it could be the way they handled their relationships in the home or even outside the home. All these could typically become the front of the diablo so that people wouldn’t look into their own souls – misleading them to think that nothing was wrong with them, and it was the house or objects inside the house that caused the problem. The devil could even go to the stretch of deceiving people by giving them not just powers but also prayers, often in Latin, passing them around from one generation to the next – with the people using them not knowing that these prayers were not from God. Father Jeff advised, “If you don’t know where such a prayer came from, do not use it because that is very dangerous. It most likely came from the devil as a form of deception. It is often in Latin so people don’t understand it. If it’s in English and the person understands what it means and it is not the way of the Lord, will the person still use it? The Catholic Church has a lot of prayers that everyone can clearly understand. Why not trust ‘Our Father,’ ‘Hail Mary,’ and ‘Glory Be’ instead of Latin prayers that may have come from the devil? Remember, for demons, it is always about lies and deception.”
In becoming an exorcist, Father Jeff further saw the power of God, the power of the church, his own weakness as a person, and the strength of God through him. He as the exorcist is not the strong one: “It is God using my weakness so that His strength can come out through me.” If a priest already sees himself as strong, then God can’t enter him. In realizing that he is weak that God’s strength works in him, Father Jeff became more effective as an exorcist. “When an exorcist remains humble and acknowledges the strength of the Lord, he shall win against the devil because God’s strength is with him.”
The bishop chooses the priests who will be trained to become exorcists. Usually, the bishop asks who are willing to take on the responsibility. Often, he ends up assigning. In the case of Father Jeff, he accepted the assignment from his bishop although he was initially torn between saying yes or saying no. “Of course, it was my bishop and it’s a task coming from God. I told my bishop I would accept it, but I requested that I have other colleagues to join me so that I will have a team to do it in our diocese. He agreed to assign me four additional priests as exorcists while he made me the chief exorcist.” The authority given to him by the church was initially verbal from the bishop, then a written authority was eventually issued for formality.
Father Jeff and his fellow priests began training and attending exorcism conferences in Rome in 2015. He realized how these trainings usually ranged from one to two weeks at a time. There received modular as well as theoretical materials and they were exposed to different approaches to learn exorcism depending on the case and the needs of the time. The practicum was also very important. There were instances when he and his colleagues joined more experienced exorcists in their sessions as part of their training. Other exorcists also shared various experiences with them. From the basics, the learnings started leveling up. Yet, most of the practical learnings really came in when they started facing their own exorcism cases. According to him, training certificates don’t matter because the priest wouldn’t show that to the devil during a possession. “You don’t tell the devil you attended a seminar. Your faith in God, alongside your preparation and disposition against the devil, is what matters to succeed. The humility and understanding that it is God who really drives away the devil are very important.”
Being an exorcist also meant invitations to various religious events to better educate people on how to protect themselves from evil. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Father Jeff always had a packed schedule with his countless invitations to both local and international talks and seminars about exorcism, alongside retreats, recollections, and other religious activities (he attended an average of two events per week). With the lockdowns halting of public gatherings, Father Jeff focused on virtual platforms including a Facebook group for exorcism ministry and his own YouTube channel PadsJeff to bring the knowledge about spiritual warfare and religion more accessible to the public.
My first Zoom meeting with Father Jeff at 10:00 a.m. on a Tuesday started smoothly with interview questions about his family and his seminary days until I was about to start with my questions about exorcism. With much of my work solely relying on fast Internet due to the COVID-19 lockdown, it was rare for me to have connection issues during a Zoom session. But this time, I was unknowingly talking in front of my laptop for a few seconds with Father Jeff apparently not hearing me anymore.
“Ayun na nga, Father. Our child actor kept insisting he was seeing a black dog that only he could see. Hello, Father… Are you there?”
He kept calling my name and checking if I was still connected for about a minute or so. I saw and heard him from my screen. But from his end, he just saw me as a frozen Zoom frame. The Zoom call was disconnected.
A few minutes later, we were back on the bridge – but not without moments of almost losing connection again. After fixing his straight, shiny hair that already touched his shoulders (he could have probably visited a barbershop already if not for the prolonged lockdown), he touched his Benedictine necklace.
“Tingnan mo, nawawala ka. O kasi kinekwento mo sila sakin e. Hello, hello!”
I was frozen on screen from his computer once more, although we could both hear each other loud and clear.
“Kasi kinekwento mo sila sakin. Yeah, I can hear you too. Hmmhhh… very good ah… pag ganun kasi isasama mo ko.”
Timing was quite unnerving. In every attempt to discuss exorcism, atheism, and preternatural occurrences, we encountered intermittent connection despite both parties having supposedly reliable Internet subscriptions – he was in his parish where the network service was crucial for conducting masses and connecting with people through online platforms and I was in a work-from-home setup as a media professional and educator in a pandemic-stricken world. Before and after the interview, all our regular Zoom sessions turned out alright.
According to Father Jeff, demons don’t just disturb vulnerable people. They also disturb those who don’t believe, those learning more about how to avoid their deception, and those learning how to avoid opening themselves to the devil. He would expect those things to happen because the demon would clearly meddle with such to deceive people or spread fear in people. He said that one should not fear these stumbling blocks because they should be good signs of doing something right. With no disturbances as such, it may possibly mean that what is being done is not good.
“Why would these demons bother with these obstacles if the person is already doing things that are not for God?”
Father Jeff looks at the brighter side in such happenings that he would in fact wait for these disturbances to come because they mean that the diablo is threatened or fearing what is being done.
“There is no need to fear what’s happening.”
It was summer of 1987, about two months after his grade school graduation, when the 12-year-old Jeff rushed to follow his classmates who were mostly ready to take the plunge into high school in their preferred schools. He took his time that he hadn’t taken any high school entrance exam yet when the new school year was starting in a month. This was until a classmate dragged him to a school in Guadalupe after their mothers agreed that they take the exam there. He had no idea it was a seminary. Upon realizing this, he was a half-hearted boy who still had no intention to become a priest but just went with the flow because he didn’t want to stop schooling. Fast forward to over a decade later, he became a priest. His grade school classmate who led him to this path pursued a career outside church service.
Looking back at his pre-teen self two decades after becoming the groom of the bride, the bride as he explained being the sambayanan (the community), he knew that his classmate who had him in tow to take the high school entrance exam at Our Lady of Guadalupe Minor Seminary was God’s way to call him to the vocation. Slowly but surely, he developed the desire to serve the church. He would always personally describe his journey to priesthood as an accident, while also adding, “There is really no accident with God, right? Everything is planned.”
Being in a seminary meant he didn’t have much contact with his relatives and friends. He only saw his mother and siblings during Sundays. Having to see his father was rarer because of his work as a seaman. His parents were both Bicolanos, but he considers himself a Manila boy. His father was from Vinzons, Camarines Norte, although he never had the chance to go there. His mother was from Naga City and he was able to go there twice. He was very young during his first visit, then the second time was during a family reunion. He, his brother, and three sisters all grew up in their Pasig home. He was the bunso of four children until he went to the seminary. For him, the Lord gifted his family with a new bunso with the birth of his youngest sister whom his parents had right after he left for the seminary – he and his sister had a 12-year gap.
Being the family’s bunso for all those years before entering the seminary had its perks. He explained, “My family really took good care of me. I was never bullied. I couldn’t remember a time when my older siblings fought with me. They fought with one another, but not with me.” If ever he did something wrong, it was his mother who talked to him. And so, he had no hinanakit against his siblings. “When I became a priest, their respect for me actually transformed, then they started calling me FJ.” He was happy that his family realized that they gave him away for the service of the Lord and they understood what this entailed. Now known as Father Jeff to the sambayanan, he became an instrument of God for people’s salvation. “And that privilege is very, very unique for me. I cannot imagine myself doing otherwise.” His family took care of him as the bunso before he entered the seminary. It’s his turn to take care of the community as an ordained member of the Catholic Church.
Having to enter the seminary at an early age, he recalled how his mother consistently asked him every time the school year ended whether he still wanted to continue or if he already wanted to leave the seminary. He had a consistent response every time: “I’ll still try.” By 4th year high school, his mother told her again that he could leave the seminary any time he wanted to. He said, “I’ll continue this for college.” This was when he entered the San Carlos Seminary. When he was about to finish Philosophy in 4th year college, his mother checked on him once more, asking if he still wanted to continue. As usual, his mother reiterated how he could already get out of the seminary if he wanted to. His response was, “I’ll just continue this and take up Theology.” He spent another five years studying, this time, at the San Carlos Graduate School of Theology. By then, his mother didn’t bother asking him about getting out of the seminary anymore. She even added, “Huwag ka ng makalabas-labas ha? Ituloy mo na yan.” That’s the time when he decided to go out for one year. For him, “It was a personal decision that after 13 years of seminary life, it might be good to take some rest.” He taught at Miriam College in Quezon City for one year.
While he was taking up Theology in his 4th year, he had a girlfriend. He was determined to discover more about himself – if he was really for the priesthood or for the married life. Outside, he was not under any formation, not within the seminary walls. Everything he experienced was suddenly out of the seminary context. “You got to fall in love, somebody loving you and you loving someone.” But then, he discerned how he still longed for the religious life inside the seminary. He realized how his experiences outside including being in a genuine romantic relationship solidified the real weight of priesthood in his life. In choosing between getting married or getting ordained, it turned out that priesthood made him happier more than anything else. Responding to the call he felt deep inside, he decided to get ordained after spending one year outside the seminary. He said, “No regrets. I even have more children now, right?”
Between chatting about his fondness for shoes and his collection of portraits, paintings, and sculptures of Our Lady of Guadalupe, St. Michael The Archangel, St. Joseph, and other images that can help him in exorcism, he cheerfully expressed how being a priest meant a much larger family in contrary to what most people think. For instance, after the last mass every Christmas Eve, he and his stay-in staff enjoy their Noche Buena together as his family in the parish. After which, he goes home to his biological family in Pasig for another celebration. The next day, he typically celebrates with many parishioners visiting him – most of them with their families and friends. “Many families join me: Christmas, birthday, anniversary… Kaya yung pagiging pari, ma-e-extend talaga lahat ng pamilya mo. If I were not a priest, I would only have one family. Pero dahil pari ako, napakarami kong pamilya. Akala nila malungkot. Hindi lang nila alam, napakasaya.”
“My ordination day, Aug. 6, 2001, was one of the most precious moments of my life. It was a change of character. I walked down the aisle with my parents bringing me to the altar. All my loved ones were there.” This came full circle in the years 2020 and 2021 when his parents were laid to rest. “You know, the most memorable feeling that made me really find love and peace happened when my parents received the sacraments through me before they left this world. I will never forget those days when the Lord gave me this chance so that my parents can be assured of their place in heaven – because their son became a priest and their son was able to give them the sacraments. For me, that’s a heartfelt victory. Imagine if I were not able to do those despite being a priest, perhaps, as a human being, I would not have peace. In doing them, I felt lighter, I was lifted. I will be forever thankful to God for that.”
Inside the San Carlos Seminary, the diocesan seminary of the Archdiocese of Manila catering to anyone intending to become a priest, Father Jeff treasured being a Carlista and he was thankful that God sent him teachers and formators who became his heroes to help him embrace his vocation. As Carlistas, they have this brotherhood that by virtue of their ordination, they are brother priests. “Once you realize you came from the same seminary, even if you haven’t met before, you actually know each other.”
While being prepared to be fully equipped to become a priest and between the ups and downs of being a teen, his teachers and formators inspired him to the path of taking care of people and taking care of parishes. During college, his professors opened him to the different philosophers – some atheists, some Catholic, and some non-Catholic like Martin Heidegger and Soren Kierkegaard. For him, “They allowed us seminarians to realize why we exist, why life is like this, why the world is like this, which allowed us to have a deeper understanding of the world we live in. It was ideal to continue from Philosophy in college to Theology in graduate school for that in depth learning, this time, about God.”
In understanding the composition and the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, Father Jeff explained that the church is basically composed of two members: the laypersons and the ordained persons. It doesn’t necessarily mean that one is higher than the other. He explained, “The goal of all the members of the church is to be good and eventually go to heaven.” Meanwhile, the composition of the offices of the ordained starts with the pope, the successor of St. Peter as the head of the apostles. After the pope, the cardinals immediately follow. Next to them are the bishops. But to be clear, the pope and the cardinals are all bishops. All of them are the successors of the apostles. Next to the bishops are the priests, then the deacons. All priests initially became deacons. In Father Jeff’s case, he was a deacon for four months as a preparatory stage to becoming a priest. The deacons being ordained ministers can already conduct christenings and weddings and do sermons.
Being a priest means changing assignments at least every six years. This means moving to another parish because priests are meant to serve everyone by getting assigned from one community to the next – one parish at a time. The bishop decides where a priest’s next assignment will be. Father Jeff explained how the leadership of a parish priest is categorized into three offices: the kingly office that focuses on shepherding and administrative duties such as taking care of the parish and leading the planning and implementation of projects benefiting the church and the community; the priestly office that focuses on performing the sacraments and taking charge of the salvation of the souls of the people; and the prophetic office that focuses on teaching and bringing people towards the right path through Catechism and understanding the Catholic values (including addressing wrongdoings and issues in the society such as immoral acts and political oppression).
For priests like Father Jeff, they are expected to pray the Liturgy of the Hours every day. This was part of their oath during their ordination. They have a particular book used to pray during the different times of the day. He also has his personal devotion to say the mass every day, whatever he is doing, even during vacation, even if he is alone. He sees to it that he can pray the rosary in the evening before going to sleep. For laypersons, he encourages the use of not only the existing prayers of the Catholic Church, but also the prayers coming from their own words because these are prayers of the heart that God also deeply appreciates.
By law, priests are given at least 30 days every year to take a break far from their assignments. The church recognizes that they also need time to rest and recharge to regain the energy in serving their parishes. If regular people’s rest day is Sunday, priests’ rest day is Monday. He jokingly said, “Don’t call a priest on a Monday.” This is the day when priests usually go out with friends, reconnect with family, or relax alone or with colleagues. But from Tuesday to Sunday, they typically have a full schedule with saying the mass, giving sacraments, taking care of anyone who goes to confession, attending conferences and seminars, conducting blessings, doing counseling, helping in outreach programs, and in the case of Father Jeff, going to exorcism sessions. They also enjoy regular holidays mandated by the government. But unlike in government offices, churches can remain open during certain national holidays since it’s really during Mondays that church offices are closed.
Describing himself as an adventurer who loves seeing people and holy places especially churches and shrines, he tries to find opportunities to visit different countries to see the world and immerse in different people’s cultures. Even sitting for a long time in airports gives him joy as he would simply look at people coming from different places moving around.
When he was younger, he loved attending music events. “Dati, hindi ako nagmimintis sa concerts ni Martin Nievera. Na-enjoy ko yung pumupunta rito ang Air Supply at Chicago. I like their music. Kasi yung mga uri ng music ngayon, hindi ko type e. It’s more of noise. Yun bang mga talino ng mga gawa dati, yung talino ng mga lyrics, hindi ko na mahanap ngayon.”
I opened my Facebook Messenger, hoping Father Jeff, a Facebook friend I met as the then parish priest of the church near my childhood home, would favorably respond to my request. Fourteen years ago, he agreed for us to film the Simbang Gabi scene for my independent film in our parish – that was when we personally knew each other. This time, I was hoping to write an essay about him.
“Wow! I’m humbled. “Sure. Let’s do it!”
I checked his Facebook profile and saw recent short videos of him showcasing his fast hands doing magic tricks with playing cards. His uploaded personal photos were mostly from his past travels. Other uploaded images were from pre-pandemic religious events where he served as guest speaker. His timeline featured a fine mix of originally composed and forwarded quotes and jokes, as well as expressions about the country’s state of affairs. Interestingly, 2021 turned out as the year he celebrated his 20 years of being a priest. The Philippines also celebrated 500 years of Christianity in the same year.
I saw his shared post showing the photo of American actor Willem Dafoe side by side the photo of “his brother” “Fernan (Dafoe),” a joke involving the Filipino actor “Fernando Poe” Jr. through play of words.
Another photo showed him holding a cross and looking up the heavens during a procession with the caption, “Lord, ano kayang pagkain pagkatapos nitong prusisyon?”
One comment in the post informed him about a family member who was looking for the FB page of the priest with long hair, “yung nakakatawang magsermon at nakakakita ng demonyo.”
Another forwarded post showed Bongbong Marcos wearing a pink polo shirt which he captioned with “Sama ako diyan!”
As a human and as a Filipino, Father Jeff acknowledged how living in this beautifully chaotic world is full of challenges. In the case of the church that would have to contend with the issues on the separation between the church and the state, he made it clear that this separation pertains to the law saying that the state must not set up a religion or impose a single religion in the country and there must be religious freedom for all. According to him, this is the true essence of what is called the separation between the church and the state. So, should the church remain silent when it comes to government-related or political concerns? For him, the church is clearly after the salvation of people’s souls. The church is there for anything that is spiritual.
“The church should be there for anyone needing help for their souls to go to heaven when the time comes. Do politicians and government workers have souls? So where does the church’s spiritual dimension come in? The church intends for all people to go back to the right path of spirituality. Otherwise, if they express that they don’t have souls, then the church will not intervene anymore as there are no more souls to save.”
This is why the church remains vigilant in national affairs, including issues of oppression and authoritarianism.
I asked, “Father, was there ever a time when a politician came up to you asking for your support?”
“Wala pa namang nagtatangka, subukan lang nila. Kung 10 billion, sige pwede (laughs). Hindi, hindi.”
“Hala, Father, you are getting deceived (by the devil)!”
“Off the record (more laughs).”
Even Father Jeff would typically experience trolls of politicians online. Whenever he gets targeted because of his political stand, he tries to explain his side and the trolling usually ends when he reiterates that the church is here to try to save people’s souls from the devil, and that includes their own souls and the souls of the politicians they support. He still hopes that these people can be more open to listen and understand when he reaches out to them. Being the joker that he is, he funnily noted how he hopes he wouldn’t have to go to the stretch of telling a persistent troll that if he commands the devil away from a possessed person, he will command it to go to the troll. But on a more serious note, after doing his duty to inform and educate such people, he believes it’s time to lift things up to the Lord. By then, convincing, converting, and changing people’s mindset already become the work of the Holy Spirit.
“The Lord just wants us to do our part. If they don’t listen, it’s not in our hands anymore. It’s less responsibility, right?”
“That’s a good way to handle it, Father. I’ll remember that.”
He expressed how much hurt he felt when the Philippine president cursed Pope Francis and even called God stupid.
“If you take that in the context of your parents being cursed and bad-mouthed by someone, even if that person would try to dilute the effect by saying it was just a bad joke, wouldn’t you feel angry?”
Eventually, considering how many already attempted to reach out to the foul-mouthed president, he now applies his principle that if he doesn’t listen, then it’s time to lift it up to God. In fact, he got to the point that his exasperation is more towards the people who continue to support and defend him saying he is just really like that.
“So, if he is really like that, we should not be able to change him for the better?”
At this point, he started focusing on educating people to choose the right government officials who deserve to be public servants. He tries his best to reach out in various ways for people to choose the right candidates who have genuine hearts to serve the country in the next elections. Yet, he sees how many people get blindsided by their fanaticism that they even use the gospel to defend evil deeds – many of which consider themselves as religious. At times, he feels that some people can still change, but for most, it all boils down to ego – they knew they made a mistake, but they won’t yield to changing their projected disposition and reputation. Father Jeff could only hope that these people’s conscience would at least allow them to correct their misdeeds through their hidden ballots, since no other person would see who they voted for inside the polling booths.
“Father, how do you compare your fight against the devil in exorcism with your fight against the mundane cases of evil in the world? Which is more challenging?”
“Of course, mas challenging yung nangyayari sa mundo, although they are the same work of the devil. Mas madali nga yung ine-exorcise yung tao. Kasi you can directly command the devil. Yung sa mundo kasi, it is usually a fruit of the free will and free decision of human beings. There is evil in the world because we are free to choose, pero kadalasan yung pinipili kasi ng tao sablay. Pinipili ng tao kung ano yung masama. Wala ng kasalanan ang diablo dun. All the devil can do is to tempt. Pero pag tayo ay natukso, tayo pa rin ang may kasalanan nun.”
“I see, Father.”
“In exorcism, the priest can directly talk to the devil to go out of that person. Sa totoo lang, mas masunurin pa ang demonyo kesa sa tao e. Although ang devil talagang lolokohin ka niyan. Pero once na nasasaktan na yan at ginamit mo na ang pangalan ni Hesus, sumusunod na. E ang tao kahit gamitan mo ng pangalan ni Hesus e gagawin pa rin niyan ang kasalanan.”
“E sila nga gumagamit sa pangalan ni Hesus sa mga questionable social media posts nila, di ba, Father?”
“Ayun na nga. Kaya mahirap talaga, it’s so hard to mess up with free will. That’s why the evil in the world is harder to deal with than exorcism.”
Right before the transcription of Father Jeff’s interview, I was with my child (baptized by Father Jeff a few years ago) and we were working on her homeschooling activity. That morning, just before the creepy encounter with the exorcist’s kalaban manifesting as high-tech stumbling blocks in my laptop, I and my child finished two angels made of corn husk for her Advent module. Two hours later, one of those angels turned out as my reminder of St. Michael, the archangel I knew more about through Father Jeff.