Pope takes aim at superstition in Africa

LUANDA, Angola — Pope Benedict XVI urged African Catholics to help eradicate widespread superstitious beliefs, saying they have left many people living in fear of evil spirits.

The pope’s words hit a nerve in Africa, where belief in witchcraft and sorcery has led to killings and discrimination, especially against children.

At a Mass March 21 in Luanda, the pope said Angolan Catholics should tackle the problem of superstition with the spirit of the country’s early missionaries.

“Today it is up to you, brothers and sisters, following in the footsteps of those heroic and holy heralds of God, to offer the risen Christ to your fellow citizens. So many of them are living in fear of spirits, of malign and threatening powers,” he said.

“In their bewilderment they end up even condemning street children and the elderly as alleged sorcerers. Who can go to them to proclaim that Christ has triumphed over death and all those occult powers?” he said.

In Angola, police recently discovered a large group of children held by religious fanatics because they were suspected of being “possessed,” prompting new awareness of the problem.

“It’s a cultural mentality that is causing divisions, hatred and the consolidation of ignorance,” Angolan Bishop Jose Manuel Imbamba of Dundo said.

“Families are being destroyed, and it’s getting worse because children themselves are being accused of being witches,” he said.

Church leaders throughout Africa say belief in witchcraft is common in many areas of the continent. “Witchcraft is tearing villages and urban societies apart,” declared the working document for next October’s Synod of Bishops for Africa, which was released during the pope’s trip.

Witches and wizards are often blamed for misfortune, illness, infertility and natural catastrophes. Young children and older women are especially suspect, and some have been hacked to death by villagers in recent years.

On March 18, Amnesty International reported that more than 1,000 people have been rounded up in Gambia in a government-sponsored witch-hunt ordered by President Yahya Jammeh.

Botswanan Bishop Franklyn Nubuasah, vice president of the Interregional Meeting of Bishops in Southern Africa, said after the papal Mass that even Catholics are affected by milder forms of superstition.

“In southern Africa, many of our people who are sick go to traditional healers who claim to have relationships with ancestors. These ancestors then direct the treatment of the illness,” he said.

“We in the church have recently discovered that this has become a problem for us, because some of our priests and religious have also veered into this healing ministry. They claim to have communication with ancestors,” he said.

He said South African bishops issued a pastoral document to correct the problem, condemning the practice and sanctioning the priests and nuns involved. The issue remains for the church, however, since many people believe that traditional healing practices and ancestor communication really work, he said.

The pope celebrated the Mass in the Church of St. Paul, where an overflow crowd of nuns, priests and catechists spilled out onto an adjacent lawn. The pope was on the fifth day of his weeklong trip to Africa. He looked tired at the beginning of the Mass, but delivered his homily in a strong voice.

The pope’s comments on superstition underlined a broader point: that the church’s missionary effort must know no bounds, and should reach those with traditional beliefs.

The pope dismissed the argument that such people should be left in peace, on the grounds that “they have their truth and we have ours.” If Christians are really convinced they have a message that can save, he said, they are bound to present it to others.

“Indeed, we must do this. It is our duty to offer everyone this possibility of attaining eternal life,” he said.

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4 Responses to Pope takes aim at superstition in Africa

  1. I’m sorry, but someone who represents the ultimate in supernaturalism condemning supernaturalism is a bit odd, don’t you think?

  2. Holly says:

    No he is talking about the tools Satan uses for his supernaturalism which is mentioned in the Bible.
    He is condemning the practices handed down by Satan from the beginning.
    The “father of lies” has many tricks up his sleaves.
    One of them is Witchcraft and other practices.
    Im sorry but this is so and we dont condone Wiccan practices because we dont know that they may cater to the dark side in this world.
    After all the “father of lies” is still here and we have to fight against these temptations.
    I can honestly speak from experience Ive been offered occult teaching and to this day I still get letters from psychics. I have not gotten deeply into the occult practices because I was lucky enough on my journey, after having been gone about 18 years from the Catholic Church to return.
    Humbly speaking must be the “father of lies” wants certain people on his team. Not that Im saying Im anything special far from it.
    I have sensed there is another side in this world–a dark side.
    Im sure that the Holy Father after years of study and living at the Vatican is aware of certain things that happen on the dark side.
    After having lived in the “worldly world” Im quite sensible about these subjects and can wholey stand up for His Holiness that he has the right from Christ to speak on these subjects.
    So I must suggest that you understand the difference between The light of Supernaturalism (Christ) and the Dark side of Supernaturalism (Satan). I think this is the difference.
    If you get a chance read about Father John Bosco’s prophesy on the popes. The one about the Vicar of Christ steering the ship (The Church) through the rough waters.
    So what the ultimate is here is that the Pope is condemning the teachings of the dark one.
    Love in Christ brothers and sisters.

  3. Diane Yebba says:

    What about the 9 million innocent people, mostly women and children that were murdered, tortured, and burned over your church and the Pope? Please educate yourself in your religions past. The Burning Times.

  4. chukwuma odelugo says:

    Why is it so difficult to understand that there is a difference between superstition and religion. Everytime the issue of Africa and superstition arises, Africans (mostly) defend these superstitions by comparing them to Christianity. That is simply poor thinking. A single or even a set of superstitious beleifs do not a religion make. I lived in the US and now live in Africa. You can’t imagine how much silly superstitious beliefs control the lives of many, many people (some unwittingly). So, please my fellow Africans, the point is we are too, too superstitiuos. Superstitious in the face of simple scientific explainations. These isolated superstitous beliefs do not amount to a religion such that you may compare it to Christianity. Like one person has already commented, Africa needs an Age of Enlightenment, otherwise we may not prosper. Before you comment, if you are African and live in Europe or North America, ask yourself sincerely why you live there. Probably to escape the poverty of Africa (at least). Well, superstition breeds that poverty. So, my dear brothers and sisters, the first thing we must do is be honest with ourselves. Africa is too superstitious, and it is keeping us poor and backwards.

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