Jack-o'-Lanterns on show at an exhibition in La Canada Flintridge, California
Exoricst priest says Halloween, celebrated on 31 October, is a dark holiday which people use to practice occult activitiesAFP

A Catholic exorcist priest has called for Halloween, which traditionally focuses on witchcraft and demons, to be replaced with Holyween, a new festival celebrating Christian saints.

Father Aldo Buonaiuto, a member of the International Association of Exorcists (AIE) which is to hold its first conference in Rome this weekend, told the Daily Mail: "The Catholic Church in Italy has now launched the initiative 'Holyween' to replace the 'dangerous' [Halloween] festival.

"While most people are seeped in zombies and horror, we put on our door or windows a light or an image evocative of the saints. And then there will be masses, prayer vigils and worship to celebrate the saints and victory of good over evil."

Buonaiuto said that AIE usually receives hundreds of calls when 31 October approaches, due to concerns about increased occult activity related to the Halloween holiday.

"Many say Halloween is a simple carnival but, in fact, there is nothing innocent or fun about it," he said. "There are always more evil rituals, animal sacrifices, desecrations of cemeteries and thefts of sacred bones... From here the door to the devil can be opened."

Writing for the Italian website of Unitalsiroma – an association which helps invalids to travel to holy sites such as Lourdes – Buonaiuto said: "Halloween is a feast from the darkness and, behind what many people consider just an occasion to wear costumes, hides a world inspired by the cult of Satan and his malefic spirits, who aim to gain new worshippers."

According to Buonaiuto, people who wear macabre masks and costumes of ghosts, witches and skeletons contribute "to trivialise horror, death and afterlife".

"Other people... dedicate October to worshipping Satan and they participate in rituals, hoping to please evil spirits."

Buonaiuto's comments come as 300 exorcist priests and experts from across the world prepare to meet in Rome to discuss the threat of the occult and Satanism.

Pope Francis praised the exorcists for their work to combat the Devil. AIE was officially recognised by the pontiff last June.