One the second day of his visit to Benin in West Africa, Pope Benedict XVI has urged peace and reconciliation between Catholicism and traditional African beliefs.
The Pope has travelled to the city of Ouidah on the southern coast of Benin, west of the capital city of Cotonou, where the ancient custom of Voodoo is still practiced. However, Ouidah is also the locale of one of the largest Catholic cathedrals in the world.
According to reports about half of the country’s population of Benin is Christian, although some of them incorporate the practice of Vodun (voodoo) in their rituals.
The pope, who has called against the practice of witchcraft, has been followed by huge crowds wherever he has gone.
One worldly matters, the pontiff has condemned corruption and greed in a speech to politicians and church officials.
Do not deprive your peoples of hope. Do not cut them off from their future, he told the assemblage.
There are too many scandals and injustices, too much corruption and greed, too many errors and lies, too much violence which leads to misery and to death.”
In Ouidah, the Pope also signed a 135-page formal apostolic exhortation entitled ‘The Pledge for Africa’ which was originally crafted two years ago in Rome by Catholic bishops from across Africa.
The document formally calls for peace and justice on the continent, please for good governance, the abolition of the death penalty and a condemnation of the abuse of women and children.
Virgile Ahissou, a BBC correspondent in Cotonou, wrote: Voodoo is recognized as an official religion in Benin, followed by some 40 percent of the population. People across West Africa, especially Togo, Ghana and Nigeria hold similar beliefs. Voodoo has none of the negative connotations it has in the West and many of those who are officially Christian or Muslim also incorporate some Voodoo elements into their beliefs, especially in times of crisis.”
Ahissou added: But Voodoo is more than a belief system, it is a complete way of life, including culture, philosophy, language, art, dance, music and medicine. Voodoo priests ask the gods to intervene on behalf of ordinary people but local adherents stress that they have nothing to do with sorcery or black magic. People here do not stick needles into dolls to cause misfortune to their enemies, as you see in some Western films.”
Meanwhile, Africa is a hotbed for Christian evangelism. As Catholics rapidly flee the church in Europe, it is finding new converts at a rapid pace in Africa.
However, in places like Benin and elsewhere in West Africa where voodoo is prevalent, the church faces a large obstacle in reconciling Christianity with animist rituals.