An exorcist priest has been named second-in-command at the Catholic Church’s prison ministry in the Philippines.
The Catholic bishops' conference has announced the appointment of Father Nezelle Lirio, 44, as executive secretary of the Commission on Prison Pastoral Care effective Dec. 1.
The priest will succeed Rodolfo Diamante, 70, who has retired after serving in the post for 27 years and who had been involved in the prison ministry for 42 years in total.
Father Lirio will assist Bishop Joel Baylon of Legazpi, who has been interim head of the prison ministry since 2017.
"It’s very apt that he’s an exorcist with all the evils that the prison ministry is facing," said Diamante, who did not provide any details about Father Lirio's role as an exorcist.
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Father Lirio has been serving the prison ministry for 18 years while a priest in Cabanatuan Diocese, north of capital Manila.
"I'm happy that the Lord has sent someone who will guide the ministry," Diamante told a gathering of volunteers at the start of Prison Awareness Week on Oct. 21.
He said it has "never been my dream" to be in the prison ministry. "But the Lord brought me here," said Diamante, adding that Father Lirio may have the same experience.
He said the priest's work would be difficult. "The Lord is inviting [Father Lirio] not into a beautiful garden, but he can transform this into a beautiful garden. It's up to him as he discerns what the Lord wants," said Diamante.
He said he would have wanted to pass on to the priest a very well-organized ministry. "But I'm sorry it's not like that. You will start from zero again, which is good because you will be putting in your own style on how you will handle the problem," Diamante said.
The Military Ordinariate of the Philippines, meanwhile, has announced that it is looking for more pastors to serve in prisons.
Military Bishop Oscar Jaime Florencio said the Church cannot undermine the importance of chaplains to minister to inmates.
He said the military ordinariate only has eight chaplains for the Bureau of Jail and Management and Penology. "There are only a few of us," said Bishop Florencio. "We don’t have many all over the Philippines."
The military ordinariate is responsible for the pastoral care of Catholics serving in the military, police, coastguard units and prison service.
The bishop said he is trying to ask for help from bishops to allow their priests to act as auxiliary chaplains.
There are about 182,000 inmates in prisons across the Philippines, 76 percent of whom are prisoners in city, town and provincial jails. Only about 23 percent are serving their sentences in the seven national penitentiaries.
The Catholic Church has about 86 volunteer units from different dioceses, with 20-100 volunteers serving in each jail. Most of these facilities have no chaplains.