The Roman Pope, Benedict XVI, recently visited Angola, and expressed concern about the witch hunts that are taking place in some African countries.
The pope began his day addressing Catholic clergymen and nuns, telling them to be missionaries to those Angolans ‘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.’
In Africa, some churchgoing Catholics also follow traditional animist religions and consult medicine men and diviners who are denounced by the church.
People accused of sorcery or of being possessed by evil powers sometimes are killed by fearful mobs.
The article is somewhad skimpy, and doesn’t report on what means, if any, Pope Benedict suggested should be used to deal with the problem, but it is good to know that there is concern about it at the highest levels in the Roman Catholic Church, which is probably the biggest single Christian body in Africa.
That’s not to say that others have not been concerned about it in the past, but many past responses have been ineffectual. The modernist response has been quite common among Christian churches — to assert, in the face of witchcraft beliefs and fear of evil spirits, that such things don’t exist at all, and that modern and enlightened people don’t believe in such primitive nonsense. Faced with that kind of response from the church leaders, people who fear witches and evil spirits conclude that the church is not equipped to cope with such problems, and so they resort to those who do claim to be competent to deal with them — diviners and medicine men, the so-called “witchdoctors”.
If Pope Benedict is urging church leaders to take the fears of such people seriously, and to help them to overcome them rather than despising them as primitive superstitions from the vantage point of a superior Enlightenment worldview, then that is to be welcomed.
But there is also the problem of some neopentecostal groups who, according to some reports, are actually fanning those fears into a flame, and thereby encouraging witch hunts and pointing the finger of suspicion even at children. That should be a matter of concern to all Christians in the continent.
I’ve just found a link to the full text of Pope Benedict’s address here.
I believe this is a very important document for the Christian Church in Africa.