In Assisi in general terms, and to the bishops of Angola with a direct denunciation, Benedict XVI has criticized the traditional African religions. Which go so far as to kill the elderly and children in a modern witch hunt
ROME, November 3, 2011 – The first person on the right in the photo, next to the pope, the patriarch of Constantinople
Bartholomew I, and Rabbi David Rosen, is Professor Wande Abimbola, from Nigeria.
Abimbola spoke in Assisi, at the "pilgrimage" organized by Benedict XVI last October 27, "in the name of the leaders and followers of the indigenous religions of Africa." He himself is a priest and international representative of the religion Ifa and Yoruba, spread throughout much of sub-Saharan Africa and even to the Americas on immigration routes.
Speaking in Assisi, Abimbola asked that "the indigenous African religions be given the same respect and consideration as the other religions."
And Benedict XVI – who, when he writes his speeches himself, as in this case, is never politically correct – took him at his word.
In the talk he gave shortly afterward to the three hundred religious representatives and "seekers of the truth," the pope expressed critical considerations on all the religions, including the traditional African religions. He grouped them together in a history made up also of the "recourse to violence in the name of faith": a history, therefore, requiring purification for all.
But two days after the encounter in Assisi, Benedict XVI was even more blunt and to the point. Receiving the bishops of Angola at the Vatican on their "ad limina" visit, he denounced a violence that in the name of African religious traditions even goes so far as to kill children and the elderly:
"One obstacle in your work of evangelization is that the hearts of the baptized are still divided between Christianity and the traditional African religions. Afflicted by the problems of life, they do not hesitate to resort to practices that are incompatible with following Christ. The abominable effect of this is the marginalization and even the killing of children and the elderly, who are condemned under false charges of witchcraft. Remembering that human life is sacred in all its phases and situations, continue, dear bishops, to raise your voices on behalf of these victims. But since this is a regional problem, it is appropriate to launch a joint effort on the part of the ecclesial communities tested by this calamity, seeking to determine the deep meaning of such practices, to identify the pastoral and social dangers that they convey, and to establish a method capable of uprooting them for good, with the collaboration of the governments and of civil society."
Two years earlier, in 2009, during his voyage in Angola, Benedict XVI had raised this question:
"Many of them are living in fear of spirits, of malign and threatening powers. In their bewilderment they end up even condemning street children and the elderly as alleged sorcerers."
And he had also rejected a common objection within the Church itself:
"Someone may object: 'Why not leave them in peace? They have their truth, and we have ours. Let us all try to live in peace, leaving everyone as they are, so they can best be themselves.' But if we are convinced and have come to experience that without Christ life lacks something, that something real – indeed, the most real thing of all – is missing, we must also be convinced that we do no injustice to anyone if we present Christ to them and thus grant them the opportunity of finding their truest and most authentic selves, the joy of finding life. Indeed, we must do this. It is our duty."
Anna Bono, an expert on African traditions, commented on the Catholic online newspaper "La Bussola Quotidiana":
"What the pope denounced is not happening only in Angola. In Africa, witchcraft is one of the most deeply rooted and persistent tribal institutions. It not spoken of much, perhaps in part because its existence contradicts the prevalent representation of the traditional African communities as models of peaceful coexistence, tolerance, social equity and harmony, preserving human values that the West is instead seen as having sacrificed for power and money."
In the same commentary, Anna Bono cites some recent cases of the killing of children on charges of witchcraft in various countries of Africa, or their mutilation "because of special properties attributed to their organs," as happens with albinos.
Some have been stunned that Benedict XVI denounced these killings so explicitly in speaking to the bishops of Angola.
The pope's speeches to the bishops on their "ad limina" visits, in fact, always undergo the examination of Vatican diplomacy, which is usually very prudent.
This time, however, the reviewer in the secretariat of state who took care of it personally knew his subject matter.
Giovanni Angelo Becciu, now the substitute secretary of state for general affairs, meaning the second in command of the Church's central government right after Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, was the nuncio in Angola when Benedict XVI visited the country after a stop in Cameroon, and lifted the veil on that abomination.
Next November 18, pope Joseph Ratzinger will go to Benin to deliver to representatives of the continent's bishops the apostolic exhortation concluding the 2009 synod of bishops, dedicated precisely to Africa.
It will be interesting to see what the document says about the traditional African religions.
Benedict XVI's speech to the bishops of Angola on October 29, 2011:
> "Nella gioia della fede..."
And the pope's homily in Luanda on March 21, 2009:
> "As we have just heard..."
The commentary by Anna Bono in "La Bussola Quotidiana":
> La strage dei bambini "stregoni"
The previous articles dedicated by www.chiesa to the encounter in Assisi on October 27, 2011:
> Vatican Diary / The "spirit of Assisi" that the pope doesn't trust
The formula has great success in the media and is the mantra of the Franciscans and of the Community of Saint Egidio. While the Vatican authorities no longer repeat it. And Benedict XVI even less so
> The Commandment of Assisi: "Purify your own faith"
This is the way "so that the true God becomes accessible." The speech of pope Joseph Ratzinger to the "pilgrims of truth" gathered in the city of Saint Francis
> The Truth about Assisi. Never-Before-Seen Words from Benedict XVI
"I will do everything I can to make a syncretistic or relativistic interpretation of the event impossible." In a letter from the pope to a Lutheran pastor, the real reason for the convocation of the encounter
> Assisi Gives an Encore. But Revised and Corrected
The invitation is extended to nonbelievers, and prayer will be for private rooms. These are the two new features of the new edition of the meeting. Against this backdrop: the year of faith, and the martyrdom of Christians in the world
The program of Benedict XVI's next voyage to Africa:
> Apostolic Journey to Benin, November 18-20, 2011
English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.