POPE CELEBRATES MASS IN LUANDA
BY JOHN THAVIS, CNS
POPE BENEDICT urged African Catholics last Saturday to help eradicate widespread superstitious beliefs, saying they have left many people living in fear of evil spirits.
The Pope’s words touched a nerve in Africa, where belief in witchcraft and sorcery has led to killings and discrimination, especially against children.
At a Mass on 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.
Church leaders throughout Africa say belief in witchcraft is common in many areas of the continent. The working document for October’s Africa synod declared: “Witchcraft is tearing villages and urban societies apart.” 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.
Last week Amnesty International reported that more than 1,000 people had been rounded up in Gambia in a government-sponsored witch-hunt.
The Pope celebrated the Mass in the church of St Paul, where an overflow crowd of nuns, priests and catechists spilled out on to an adjacent lawn.