David Gibson on the Pope in Africa: Is One Man’s Faith Another’s Superstition?

Posted by Kendall Harmon

At a Mass on Saturday in Luanda, Angola, Pope Benedict tried to warn his listeners of the dangers of belief in witchcraft. Though he never used that word, his implication was clear when he suggested that African Catholics should offer Christ to their fellow citizens because "so many of them are living in fear of spirits, of malign and threatening powers." He worried aloud about many Africans: "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?"

Who indeed? The statement reflects a real and tragic problem in many parts of Africa, even among people who identify as Christians. Many still consult shamans and use talismans or potions for everything from fertility problems to exorcisms, while others take things a horrifying step further: Children, especially those with a physical deformity or afflicted with a disease like AIDS, are often brutalized or killed in the belief that they are possessed by evil spirits. The elderly, especially women, are also common targets. Earlier this month, Amnesty International reported that more than 1,000 people were rounded up in Gambia in a government-sponsored witch-hunt, and in Tanzania alone, at least 45 albinos have been murdered since 2007 because popular superstition holds that they are witches.

No wonder church leaders who praise the explosion of faith across Africa as the future of Christianity -- the Christian population has gone to 360 million today from eight million in 1900 -- also take pains to try to purge superstition and witchcraft from the continent. And they regularly fail, or offend.

Read it carefully and read it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchReligion & Culture* International News & CommentaryAfrica* Religion News & CommentaryOther ChurchesRoman CatholicOther Faiths

Posted March 27, 2009 at 12:12 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

1. teatime wrote:

Interesting. But why single out the Africans when other populations also incorporate pagan practices into Catholicism? Voodoo, santeria, curanderisma, and other expressions continue. It’s a widespread problem. There are also cults of Mary that center around supposed Marian apparitions and some of these form the basis for RC Marian doctrine (i.e., the Immaculate Conception, for one).

Some Christian belief does include the “paranormal.” I believe evil spirits do exist and I believe in angels. I believe fervently in the holy mysteries surrounding the Eucharist. The difference between this and pagan rituals is that we believe GOD is doing and providing—the pagans believe they can control nature, the spirits, other people, etc. and that’s a HUGE difference.

March 27, 5:38 pm | [comment link]
2. libraryjim wrote:

He probably used Africa as an example because he was IN Africa, speaking to Africans in Angola at the time?

March 27, 8:52 pm | [comment link]
3. teatime wrote:

Uh, yeah, I’m not exactly stupid, you know. My point was that the popes have NOT effectively taken on this widespread problem and the article brings up issues that extend beyond Africa.

March 27, 10:54 pm | [comment link]
4. Chris Molter wrote:

You’re conflating two separate issues: 
1. the influence and assimilation of pagan practices into Catholicism (umm.. Christmas tree anyone??)
2. approved vs unapproved Marian apparitions

March 28, 10:42 am | [comment link]
5. John Bowers wrote:

In Uganda there is a huge problem with child sacrifice—not because they believe the children have evil spirits but because they believe killing unblemished children can get the spirits to help them (usually to get money). About 3 weeks ago a child was kidnapped (but fortunately recovered in time) in the village neighboring mine (well the one I just left) and the police suspect that this sort of witchcraft was the culprit.

March 28, 6:43 pm | [comment link]
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