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LOW PROFILE The Demon Chaser

Father Santos Mendoza is Dallas’s only church-sanctioned exorcist.

EARLIER THIS YEAR, BOB CLINE, A member of Arlington’s St. Matthew’s Catholic Church accompanied Father Santo:; Mendoza to the exorcism of a young Arlington woman There as support for the priest, Cline and seven other men struggled in vain to restrain a small woman in her mid-twenties.

As Cline chanted prayers, the woman shouted “1 am God” in a demonic voice.

The shaken Cline responded, “No, you aren’t God. Because God doesn’t make me nervous, and you are making me nervous.”

Mendoza, however, had seen it all before. As the only Metroplex-area priest who performs the ancient rite of exorcism, he has presided over similar scenarios several times a year since his arrival here in 1982.

Mendoza says those he seeks to help-some of them as young as seventeen-thrash, scream, and speak alternately in their natural voice and a dominant, deep, booming voice that Mendoza believes originates in the underworld. Each of these lengthy battles against evil spirits demands a unique formula. Most often Mendoza recites the Lord’s Prayer and prayers from two Biblical passages: John 4:4 and Luke 10:19. Mendoza, whose day-to-day venue is St. Cecilia’s Catholic Church, carries communion and holy water and calls on the prince of angels, St. Michael, to protect him and render aid.

Although he is the only priest present during the rite, a handful of parishioners from area prayer groups, generally charismatic ones, accompany him to chant prayers.

Former Diocese of Dallas Bishop Thomas Tschoepe, who retired this summer, authorized Mendoza to perform exorcisms, although he prefers the term “deliverance.” Tschoepe downplays the significance of the rite.

“Mendoza merely prays for people like any priest.” Tschoepe says.

Mendoza, however, says that he performs “exorcisms” and dismisses the matter as one of semantics.

Tschoepe’s discomfort with the subject may stem from the sensational images associated with the 1973 film The Exorcist. Every time the film is rebroadcast. he says, the chancery receives several calls a week (compared to the usual one or two a month) from people claiming to be possessed by demons. Though Tschoepe believes such people probably lend to be more troubled than possessed, he admits the ritual has its place, even in the modern world.

“Only God knows who is possessed by the devil.. .or if they’re just a little wacky,” Tschoepe says.

Tschoepe has discussed the rituals with his successor. Bishop Charles V. Grahmann, Mendoza says, but until he’s told to do otherwise, Mendoza will continue to perform rites of exorcism in and around Dallas.

Mendoza first began chasing demons in 1954 as a young priest in his native Philippines. He has performed at least fifty ceremonies in all, in cities like Hong Kong, Paris, and Rome. On the job, Mendoza wears the traditional Roman collar with a violet and white stole draped around his neck, a vestment that indicates his authority as a church representative to perform exorcisms. He begins the rite with prayer and concludes by hearing confessions and giving Holy Communion.

If that sounds like just another day at the altar, think again. Mendoza has seen “objects without wings” fly through the air, heard unexplainable sounds, and seen indescribable sights. One of Mendoza’s most frightening experiences came not in an exotic setting like Hong Kong or New Delhi, but in Mesquite.

“I was trying to drive out the evil spirits; |lhe possessed person] fell down and then, all of a sudden, he was elevated,” says Mendoza. “And the demons were trying to carry him out [of the house]. We began singing, In the name of Jesus, in the name of Jesus, we have the victory.’ And the motion stopped. And so we blocked the way and continued singing.

“I was able to lake superiority over (he demons,” says the priest,” and the person regained consciousness”-but not before the demon (and not the possessed person, he says) pushed the medium-sized priest backwards out of the house. Undaunted, Mendoza returned and prayed with the family until his subject began to say the name of Jesus and join in prayers-the sign of a successful exorcism.

Father Mendoza talks about his work neither in mystical nor scientific terms, but matter-of-factly.

“I hear confessions, celebrate mass, preach, visit the sick, and visit those people who have been possessed or molested by demons,” Mendoza says, adding the latter duty with no more emphasis than a secretary might give to opening the mail.

While others, even within his own church, feel the need to explain away what Mendoza does, the priest simply accepts evil and his role in fighting it. He has seen strange things, been a part of them, and brought relief to people under siege. He seeks to end suffering, and whether that stems from psychological maladies of the 20th century or demons of Biblical proportion, ultimately, is inconsequential.

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