The Catholic Book I Refused to Read: Hungry Souls [A Review]

The Catholic Book I Refused to Read: Hungry Souls [A Review]

I have a confession to make.

For several years, I helped promote and sell a book that I had, in fact, not read.

I was proud of the book, proud of my company’s efforts in promoting it, delighted with with how wildly popular it was, and impressed by the praise it received. I read (with great interest) the customer reviews, which continue to pour in.

And I had zero intention of reading it.

“I am not reading this book.”

Hungry Souls by Dr. Gerard J. M. van den Aardweg

The book was Hungry Souls: Supernatural Visits, Messages, and Warnings from Purgatory by Dr. Gerard J.M. van den Aardweg.

Yes, it was a book on purgatory—and not just any book on purgatory.

It didn’t simply convey Church teaching and quote a few Church Fathers and point to clues about purgatory that can be found in Scripture. (If that’s what it did, I wouldn’t have hesitated to read it.)

No, this book contains messages from the souls in purgatory.

It contains haunting (and Church-verified!) accounts of holy persons who have received visits and pleas for prayer from mysterious ghostly figures.

It portrays physical items from the Purgatory Museum (did you know there was one?) in Rome.

It delves into near-death experiences, demons who pose as departed souls, the experiences of the saints with purgatory, and the diary accounts of a holy woman who was constantly visited by souls in the “lowest regions” of purgatory whose appearance was so disturbing as to make you think they were evil spirits.

It contains testimonies from souls in purgatory whose “simple” sins in life (which we wave off as being “small” and “normal” and “nothing to worry about, it’s not killing anyone”) were causing them profound suffering after death.

Now do you see why I refused to read it?

“I’m glad this book helps other people,” I said to myself, reading the reviews that drown the product page. “But I don’t need it. I’ve struggled with scrupulosity in the past and I will live in absolute terror of everything I do if I read this book. I just don’t need it. But I’m glad it exists.”

And that was that.

Until one day…

“Genevieve, you’re assigned to write the new course on Angels and the Supernatural.”

That’s right. I was given the task of researching and writing a digital course for Catholics on supernatural realities.

Which included the need to research purgatory, disembodied souls, ghosts, and more from a Catholic perspective.

Which meant…

I had to read the book I was refusing to read.

A Converted Reader’s Perspective

Hungry Souls illustrations

With trepidation and reluctance, I opened Hungry Souls.

It was engrossing from the first page.

I was underlining powerful sentences from the Introduction before I’d even gotten to the chapters themselves.

I was immersed in the cogent explanations as to why a soul in purgatory can experience both the greatest pain and the greatest joy at the same time.

I understood better what purgatory “was”—that mysterious reality that some people say is a “state of existence” and some people insist is also “an actual place.”

I understood that purgatory was the burning reality of anguished longing and desire—more intense than the desire we experience on earth for someone we love and are separated from. I understood that the pain that comes from this longing seems to be folded into the pure burning “flames” that cleanse this soul.

[The soul’s] encounter with God right after death has wounded it with an intense pining for Him, whom it has for a fleeting moment recognized as the ultimate fulfillment of all its longings, wishes, and hopes, of its craving for happiness…having seen Him, the torment of being far from Him surpasses any feeling of being banished from the beloved things one knew on earth.

Gerard van den Aardweg, Ph.D., Hungry Souls

I was struck by the description of near-death experiences; the accounts of demons who pose as departed souls, in order to harm Christians; and the powerful ways in which the smallest thing we do for the souls in purgatory is immediately felt by them as relief.

I didn’t tear up, though, until I read the story of a woman who was anguished over the death of her son in World War II, not knowing whether he (a soldier) had died in a state of grace and escaped hell. She was visited by another soul in purgatory, her help was requested in assisting this soul to enter heaven—and when this was done, the desires of her heart were granted…

She was told that her son—bleeding to death from his wounds in a shell crater overnight—had “placed his wounds in the wounds of Jesus.”

He was taken immediately to heaven when he died.

No purgatory.

I wept, and kept reading.

Diary Accounts from Hungry Souls

As I mentioned earlier, this book contains carefully-recorded (and long hidden) diary accounts from holy women who were chosen to be special intercessors for the souls in purgatory.

One particular example is Eugenie von der Leyen (1867–1929).

Princess Eugenie von der Leyen
Princess Eugenie von der Leyen

She had many encounters with the faithful departed, all of whom were in varying stages of purification. Her interaction with them was generally kept secret, protecting her from idle curiosity.

[Eugenie was an] emotionally stable, amiable, cheerful, and realistic woman…Everyone liked her, especially the children. [Her family was] of high German nobility…By order of her confessor, she kept a sober and matter-of-fact diary of her contacts with the poor souls, which after her death was handed over to Eugenio Pacelli, the later Pope Pius XII…

Gerard J. M. van den Aardweg, Ph.D., Hungry Souls

As seems to be common with such apparitions, souls that appeared to her were not clearly visible at first; but as prayers and sacrifices were offered, and their purification advanced, the features of their faces became more recognizable. 

Apparitions of souls from purgatory

Here is an example from her diary, recounting an experience with the soul of a Dominican religious who came to her. It was several days before she recognized him.

September, 5. …face was still wholly unrecognizable, a grey lump. He is rather quiet, but mutters incomprehensible words, it seems Latin.

September, 10. The Dominican is not frightening, but very often around.

September, 13. The Dominican is a father I have known well, a Frenchman. Was a long time with me, nodded assent when I started praying.

September, 17. I was very sad about something this night and cried. Then a hand was laid on my head. I looked up, it was the Dominican. He said: “Why do you weep?” I: “Because I am not content with myself.” …He: “Have confidence and be humble!” I: “How can I help you then?” He: “By mortification.”

Eugenie, courageous woman that she was, also received visits from souls who died in so bad a spiritual state that they required intense purification. Their appearance was so disturbing and unattractive that they could have been mistaken for damned souls. 

Her diary entries show how exhausting this work of mercy can be and that the more she gave herself to the poor souls, the more there were who desperately clung to her and pressed her to give everything she had. If we realize that God is behind all [genuine] apparitions of souls, the conclusion must be that He is so eager to release the suffering souls that He allowed them nearly to force [her] to consume her powers in their service. But from her diary it also transpires that she herself became more holy, more purified, selfless, in the process; God’s grace is multifunctional.

Gerard J. M. van den Aardweg, Ph.D., Hungry Souls

I am not including the more “terrifying” excerpts from Eugenie’s diary account—if you’re up for those, you’ll need to read the book itself.

No Hysteria Here

I want to close this review by mentioning something important: the author himself, whose bio describes him as “a Dutch psychotherapist in private practice who has also done work in parapsychology.”

As you can see, Dr. Gerard J. M. van den Aardweg tackled a difficult subject when he took on this book.

It would be far too easy to write on such topics as purgatorial apparitions, demonic imposters, and near-death experiences in a sensationalized, hysterical, credulous, sentimental, or biased way.

But van den Aardweg wrote as any truly good doctor does: with detached accuracy and healthy caution.

He wrote with painstaking precision and careful, sober reasoning.

You won’t find any hysteria here.

The point is that one has to be not only critical of alleged supernatural phenomena but also critical of the tendency to reject…the undeniable evidence of a reality that cannot be grasped in terms of the concrete, material reality surrounding us.

Gerard J. M. van den Aardweg, Ph.D., Hungry Souls

For all his precision and intellectual brilliance, Dr. van den Aardweg is easy to read.

He doesn’t hit us with lofty explanations or abstract descriptions. He writes for the average reader who isn’t a theologian or a doctor.

This makes him a pleasure to read, in addition to being a trustworthy source.

How Hungry Souls Affected Me

We can’t forget the important thing: how a book impacts us.

Is it too dramatic to say that Hungry Souls changed my life? Possibly. But it absolutely changed my outlook and has guided my actions, prayers, and awareness of the Holy Souls.

The first result from reading this book is that I was given love for the souls in purgatory. They became real persons to me. Real persons who don’t want to be forgotten any more than we do. They are my brothers and sisters in Christ. I love them.

I am more aware of the Poor Souls now. When I learned that something as simple as “offering up an ordinary work day” brings them relief, I decided to offer each work day for them.

I began to tell other people about this book and about the simple things we can do the Holy Souls. I want others to have this information and to help the Church Suffering.

And of course we all want to avoid purgatory ourselves, right? (If you don’t feel that way, I promise you will after reading this book. Purgatory is a mercy, but it’s not a place you want to be.)

Lastly, this book gave me a new zeal for…cemeteries.

Yes, cemeteries.

Cemetery in sunlight

I have a new understanding that these quiet, sober burial grounds are a visual call to prayer. They remind us of the souls who have gone before us. We shouldn’t pass by one and ignore it.

Pray for the souls in purgatory everytime you see a cemetery. Turn that radio off. Pause the conversation. Send a quick, silent prayer heavenwards.

At risk of sounding crazy, I’ll tell you something else.

There’s a particular cemetery right near where I live that I pass by all the time. I spent time visiting it (for the indulgence for the Poor Souls offered November 1st–8th) and I pray for these souls each time I drive by—so that now I feel like these folks are old friends. (I promise I also have friends who are alive.)

I’m not entirely selfless, of course—I absolutely ask these souls to pray for me and my own intentions. It’s a two-way street of intercession.

Our prayer for [the Poor Souls] is capable not only of helping them, but also of making their intercession for us effective.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church 958

Reader Reviews

Burn marks left on the worktable of Mother Isabella Fornari by the ghost of Father Panzini
Burn marks left on the worktable of Mother Isabella Fornari by the ghost of Father Panzini who appeared on November 1st, 1731

Would you like to hear what other readers have to say about Hungry Souls?

Here are some reviews. We’re just scratching the surface here—I simply could not include them all.

“This book will change your life, literally. It is simply a game changer. Reading these stories will show each of us the importance of our daily actions, daily sacrifices and the tremendous gift we can be to the suffering souls. I can’t recommend it highly enough. I keep having to buy another copy, because I keep giving mine away to someone who shows interest in the subject. I have read it multiple times, each time is a blessing.”

“A stark reminder of the importance of how we are living our lives and that we may want to consider re-evaluating what is important to us.”

“I’m so glad I read this while there is still time to influence my eternal destination. A lot of people think all you have to do is believe in God and Jesus, all your sins are forgiven, and off you go to Heaven. Purgatory is real and painful, like Hell, only real difference seems to be that you will get out of Purgatory EVENTUALLY, but you may spend decades in it suffering until then. I’m warning my family and friends, and encouraging them to read this book.”

“This book answered many questions I’ve had. It has been some time that I felt a deep need to pray for the souls in purgatory and now I know why. This book has opened my eyes to the suffering the poor souls go through. It’s a very good and educational book. I’m happy that I read it.”

“I thoroughly enjoyed this book! It has changed how I pray and how I view things. It is a book every Catholic should read!”

“Very easy reading; could not put book down… a wake up call about Purgatory and evidence that it exists.”

“I am enjoying this book very much. I will have to reread as there is a lot to absorb. I already have the desire to help the poor souls, but didn’t realize how important having Masses said would be. I hope my prayers, especially St. Gertrude’s, are helping, and I plan to have more Masses said. My thanks to the man who wrote this!”

“It really confers the depth of suffering of the souls in purgatory and their need for our prayers. Great explanations and real life accounts.”

“This is a great book. I want to re-read a second time. You will want to pray for the souls every day and it makes you think about not wanting to be in purgatory or at least for long.”

“I was a Director of Religious Ed. for 21 yrs. and only now after reading this book feel as though I have a much better knowledge and understanding of Purgatory.”

“Fascinating read. Never heard of physical evidence attributed to Purgatory. There appears to be great need to pray, fast and perform good deeds for the poor souls in Purgatory.”

“Scared the devil out of me. (Pun intended!) Helped me to clean up my act. I now say St. Gertrude’s prayer all the time and keep a copy of it in my Magnificat.”

“I had heard from different people talk about Purgatory but I never imagined what it was like. I am so Glad I bought and read this book. It is AMAZING to see the extent of Our Lord Jesus Christ MERCY to allow souls from Purgatory to come and ask for help.”

“I looked at this book for a long time before finally deciding to purchase it. I am glad that I did. It is quite thought provoking and gives the reader an amazing amount of insight – I thought that I knew enough about Purgatory – but I still do not. Am reading this book carefully and thoughtfully.”

“To be honest I never gave Purgatory that much thought until I read this book. I have not stopped praying for the souls since.”

“I grew up with Purgatory as part of the Catholic conversation and teaching. This topic is hardly ever mentioned now days with everyone thinking if they repent in time they’ll go to heaven. This book tells us of God’s love and mercy and reminds of His Justice. Please read and pass it along. We must remember to pray for the souls in Purgatory!”

“A book that truly makes one think. It is natural to just assume a loved one went directly to Heaven when they passed away. After reading this book, that is probably seldom the case. I am now more conscious of the need to pray more for my loved ones. A real eye opener. Gave it to a friend to read. She was impressed as well.”

“This book blew my mind. As a lifelong Catholic, I wish I was informed about purgatory a long time ago. A must read for all Christians.”

“For those of us, (most), who have become lukewarm or perhaps those who are not clear on the Churches teachings, here is clarity; the disturbing truth of what will await many of us who die in a state of grace, (no mortal sin not confessed), and those condemned to Hell for eternity. This book WILL keep many people from the fires of Hell. However, as the reader will find confirmation, all that we do on Earth will suffer an accounting: good and evil deeds.”

“A great source for verifiable information on one of the great mysteries of the Roman Catholic faith. Much more technical than I would have thought which was a nice surprise. A must read for those wanting to grow their understanding of the faith and how we can better serve not only the poor souls but Our Father as well. Truly inspirational and a multiple read must!”

It’s Your Turn

Well, are you intrigued? Are you going to read Hungry Souls?

If you do, I’d love it if you came back here and shared your thoughts with me in the comments below.

I look forward to hearing from you!

If you want to learn what the Church teaches about Purgatory, where this teaching can be found in the Bible, and more, sign up for the fascinating series Purgatory: Cleansing Fire. You don’t want to miss this one!