The weather report in Buenaventura, Colombia, calls for thunderstorms this Sunday. That is a bit unfortunate, since it may prove tricky to differentiate between precipitation and holy water falling from the sky.
That afternoon, on the Lord's day of rest, Monsignor Rubén Dario Jaramillo Montoya, a Catholic bishop in the city, plans to hop in a helicopter and soak what he has described as crime-ridden streets with the blessed liquid. The ritual was set to be part of a religious feast celebrating Buenaventura's patron saint. But Montoya's real hope, he told a local radio station, was to "exorcise all those demons that are destroying our port."
Besides serving as one of South America's top trade hubs, Buenaventura has largely been defined in the popular imagination, at least outside the country, by its gang violence. It has been declared Colombia's deadliest city, even as homicide rates fluctuate, and there have already reportedly been 51 killings there this year, though the number of "disappearances," as the Guardian reported, actually make the total pretty difficult to predict.
Montoya's strategy, however, isn't particularly novel: In May, the Vatican held its 14th annual exorcist conference, though this was the first time they allowed secularists and people of other faiths to participate in defense against the devil. And there actually have been helicopter exorcisms in the past. What the stunt did look like was a statement, yet again, about just how dire the Catholic Church's present-day situation seems to be.
Scrutiny of the Church has been particularly scathing in recent years, as it continues to fail to adequately address its sexual abuse crisis. The Vatican has also revealed itself to have little idea how to attract young people into the fold, and has been suffering from a widespread shortage of priests, especially in the still Catholic-dominated region of the Amazon.
Of course, it's not exactly breaking news that the Holy See is moving at a much slower pace than the secular world around it—clergy must still be celibate, for instance, and women cannot become priests. Besides (already) generating a bevy of headlines, the stunt seems unlikely to do much to persuade either laypeople or its own flock that the Church is taking ongoing, systemic problems seriously. Turning a city into a religious water park for a day is unlikely to lessen gang influence. The solution, one might say, is for the bishop and other high-ranking clergymen like him to get their heads (literally) out of the clouds.
Then again, as John Portmann, a professor of religion at the University of Virginia, put it, a helicopter exorcism "seems an altogether gentler solution than what God did to the reprobate right after Noah and company boarded the ark."
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