What Will the Pope Say to Vodun Leaders?

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  November 15, 2011 — 33 Comments

This Friday the head of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI, will be heading to Benin for a three-day visit where he is expected to unveil an “important document” relating to the Catholic Church’s role in Africa. What makes this visit distinctive is that Benin is thought to be the birthplace of Vodun (aka Vodou/Voodoo), and it is the third largest religion in that country (after Christianity and Islam). Indeed, the pontiff’s visit will feature a “a speech to non-Christian leaders” which can only mean he will be addressing practitioners of Vodun in some capacity. The Religious News Service speculates that Benedict’s message may not be one of mutual respect, understanding, and cooperation.

Ouidah is also an international center for the indigenous religion of Vodoun, or Voodoo, which is practiced by more than 17 percent of Beninese. Catholicism’s relationship with traditional African religions is of particular concern to Benedict, who has warned against the danger of melding faiths in non-Catholic cultures. Late last month at the Vatican, Benedict lamented to bishops visiting from Angola and Sao Tome and Principe that African converts to Catholicism often persist in “practices that are incompatible with adherence to Christ,” including the “marginalization and even murder of children and elderly people, condemned by the false diktats of witchcraft.”

It is increasingly clear that Benedict is unafraid of using important interfaith moments to engage in triumphalism. At the recent Assisi gathering the Pope made clear that four token agnostics were invited “so that God, the true God, becomes accessible” to them. It’s also hard to forget that in 2007 Benedict asserted that indigenous populations in South America were “silently longing” for the Christian faith of the colonizers; does he believe that practitioners of Vodun hold the same longing?  Will he publicly comment on the new code of conduct for Christian missionaries approved by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (PCID) that calls on Christians to reject all forms of coercive behavior and misrepresentative slurs?

“Christians are called to reject all forms of violence, even psychological or social, including the abuse of power in their witness. They also reject violence, unjust discrimination or repression by any religious or secular authority, including the violation or destruction of places of worship, sacred symbols or texts. [...]  Any comment or critical approach should be made in a spirit of mutual respect, making sure not to bear false witness concerning other religions. [...]  Christians should avoid misrepresenting the beliefs and practices of people of different religions.

Finally, while the Pope will get to make a speech to non-Christian leaders, will Vodun leaders get a chance to address Benedict in any format whatsoever? In 1993, during the reign of Pope John Paul II, Vodun leaders voiced their displeasure with the “denigration” of their faith by Catholic missionaries directly to the pontiff.

“Two days into his 10th African tour, Pope John Paul II tacitly acknowledged vodun’s hold tonight, meeting in Cotonou with a group of its practitioners and leaders and telling them that, while they would certainly gain from converting to Christianity, “the church considers freedom of religion to be an inalienable right, a right that brings with it the responsibility to seek the truth.” In response to his proselytization, the vodun leaders made their own point about some members of the church that seemed to reflect strains. “One cannot but bitterly deplore the campaign of systematic denigration to which the practice of vodun is subjected by certain churches and parishes,” said Senou Zannou, a spokesman for the group of 30 senior vodun priests who met the Pope and placed him on a carved wooden throne to address him.”

Since then, some Vodun leaders have become evangelists for their faith, streamlining initiations,  in an effort to stem the erosion of their beliefs under constant missionary activity.

So what will the Pope say to Vodun in its birthplace? Will he strike a conciliatory note with non-Christian faiths, or will he use this opportunity to bolster conversion efforts in Benin?

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Jason Pitzl-Waters

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=574170769 Sophie Nusslé Falco

    That man is so far up his own arse, he wouldn’t recognise sunlight. He doesn’t even consider Protestants and Orthodox to be real Christians…his notion of ecumenical is :’I speak, you listen, I’m right, you’re learning.’

    What a change from the previous Pope, who engaged very openly with others.

    • http://heathenfaith.blogspot.com Norse Alchemist

      Well, what do you expect. Under JP2, they also saw their greatest loss of followers. It’s no wonder they pull out a hardline pope willing to not just draw the line, but carve it into the stone. Many a Catholic has been wanting a stronger pope, so of course they’re pulling out the inquisition, whose number one weapon is surprise and fear.

      Sorry, top two weapons, surprise and fear. And intimidation.

      Oh screw it, go watch Monty Python.

  • http://www.magickal-media.com Alice C. “A.C.” Fisher Aldag

    “The Religious News Service speculates that Benedict’s message may not be one of mutual respect, understanding, and cooperation.” Yeah, that’d be my guess, too.

    • Baruch Dreamstalker

      Gee, you think not? :-(

      • http://heathenfaith.blogspot.com Norse Alchemist

        It’s not? le gaspe! I’m shocked, shock I tell you to find converting going on in a place like this. (You’re converts sir). *Thank you*

  • http://kauko-niskala.blogspot.com Kauko

    “Catholicism’s relationship with traditional African religions is of particular concern to Benedict, who has warned against the danger of melding faiths in non-Catholic cultures.”

    It’s a little late for the Catholic Church to be worried about syncretism with indigenous cultures, if it weren’t for that their church wouldn’t even exist.

  • Jack Heron

    This is going to be an interesting one. Recent advances from the Church towards other faiths or denominations have tended to be isolationist or hostile as regards those too different from Christianity, conciliatory to those about arms-length from Catholicism (some recent friendliness with Lutherans, for instance) and downright hostile to those almost but not quite in the fold (dissenting Catholics, Sedevacantists). Lines are being drawn, and I suspect who he meets with will help to determine what is considered an acceptable level of localising/contextualisation of Catholicism and what is considered unacceptable syncretism.

  • Kilmrnock

    I wouldn’t expect any cooperation, or pro-vudon language from this nazi pope. Like others here have said, this guy doesn’t even acknoledge non catholic christians . He is not overly fond of any Pagans either, why would anyone think his postion on Vudon will be any different . This new pope has taken the Catholic Church 10 yrs back from their previous popes positions. The Church is even doing exorcisms again, under his reign. Kilm

    • Mike

      He wasn’t a nazi. He was a member of the Hitler youth, which is so much worse than being a nazi. He hasn’t just taken the Catholic church 10 years back; he’s trying to take it 4 centuries back. He even defended how his church handled the sex abuse scandle. These people have no shame.

      • http://heathenfaith.blogspot.com Norse Alchemist

        Uh….how is being a member of the Hitler youth worse than being a Nazi? Seriously, everyone was in the Hitler youth, it was like the boy-scouts, and if you were, well…there were serious questions about your loyalty. Doesn’t have to mean much.

        • Mike

          First, let me say thank you for the historical perspective you usually bring to the discussion here. I am not saying that the man is a racist, or even evil. What I’m saying is that a man with a history of learning aggressive indoctrination at an early age becoming a leader of a Major religious and political power such as the Catholic church is someone who needs to watched very carefully.

          • Mike

            in other words: more dangerous

          • Lily

            Yeah, he was forced into the Hitler youth (like all young German’s were) but left as soon as possible and refused to have anything to do witht he Nazi’s.

            As far as the sex abuse scandal, while the pope was still a cardinal, his commission (the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) was the one who instigated the investigate abuse and dealt more swiftly with abusers than the previous people handling it. Yeah, Benedict was a harsh guy; he’s the one who wanted to deal with abusers harshly.

            And what, Kilmrnock, is wrong with exorcisms? If there is a non-human spirit who is tormenting (not always, even, possessing) a human, shouldn’t somebody step up to the plate and deal with it? I think people of all faiths can admit that not all unseen forces are friendly, whether you want to call them unseelie, evil spirits, demons, or merely negative energy, the Church has noticed that these things exist and has found a way of dealing with them that works and brings people afflicted by them some peace. So what, I say again, is wrong with exorcisms?

  • http://sari0009.xanga.com/ Karen A. Scofield

    The guy wears a beanie, a dress, acts superior to other religions and heads a church that both has an infallibility doctrine and issues apologies hundreds of years late.

    lol

    If this doesn’t lend credibility to the idea that reality is mass hallucination then nothing does.

    • Lily

      You do know that Catholics (a) don’t believe that every action or word from a pope is infallible and (b) admit that were are all sinners, don’t you? And there are many cultures where men wear “dresses” as you call them, and have ceremonial head wear. I think you are being culturally insensitive to all those peoples who wear robes, kimonos, kippas, and so on.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=614318627 Joanne Dunster

    “You can practice your wrong religion if you want to but the sooner you stop being evil and embrace Catholicism along with me as your unquestioned leader the happier you will be”….*shocked and offended looks from audience*…”What? did I say something wrong?”

  • kenneth

    “Will he strike a conciliatory note with non-Christian faiths, or will he use this opportunity to bolster conversion efforts in Benin?”

    He’ll be as conciliatory as a skinhead’s steel-toed Doc Martin against a ribcage!

    • http://heathenfaith.blogspot.com Norse Alchemist

      So….we gonna call him “Capt Curbstomp” now?

  • http://egregores.wordpress.com Apuleius Platonicus

    Ratzinger already met with a group of Angolan bishops in preparation for his trip. The meeting took place in the Vatican in late October (link).

    The Holy Father told the Angolan Bishops gathered at the Vatican:

    “The heart of the baptised is sometimes shared between Christianity and traditional African religions … Afflicted by existential problems, we don’t hesitate to resort to practices that are incompatible with the path of Christ. The abominable effects are the marginalization and even the murder of children and the elderly (who are) condemned by the false precepts of witchcraft.”

    The last time Ratzinger visited Africa it was Angola in 2009. During that trip, he not only inveighed against African Traditional Religions, but he also spread the Good News that condoms “increase the problems” with HIV/AIDS.

  • Anonymous

    The abominable effects are the marginalization and even the murder of children and the elderly (who are) condemned by the false precepts of witchcraft.”

    Well, he would know.

  • Hugin

    “The church considers freedom of religion to be an inalienable right, a right that brings with it the responsibility to seek the truth.”

    Under the freedom of religion, I sought the truth, and I found Heathenry

  • Rombald

    I can’t really understand why people bother with interfaith meetings at this level. The Catholic Church says that it has the whole truth, and all other beliefs are, to differing degrees, misguided, incomplete or depraved. So why bother with interfaith activities?

    I do see the need for interfaith stuff in some other ways:
    1. At grass-roots level – making sure that your Christian auntie or Muslim co-worker doesn’t think you eat babies, etc.
    2. In academia – analysing differences, common ground, etc.
    3. In law – equality of all religions, punishment of vandalism, punishment of definite libel (i.e. incorrect statements of fact, not opinions about religions being “evil”).

    • Ursyl

      I agree with your “at that level,” but have been somewhat involved in local interfaith activities, which have had some good effects I think.

      The first step is that no one be such absolutists that they cannot recognize the value and good in others regardless of their religion or lack thereof. I do not see this Pope as being capable of that.

    • http://www.facebook.com/dashifen David Dashifen Kees

      I’d be interested to get someone like Rev. McCollum’s point of view on international interfaith efforts like this. I heard him speak on the topic but it was a while ago and I wouldn’t want to misrepresent him, but he’s personally met with individuals within the upper tiers of the Catholic hierarchy in the past, but unless I’m mistaken it was during the time of JP2 so it could be a very different hierarchy.

  • Mia

    “in 2007 Benedict asserted that indigenous populations in South America were “silently longing” for the Christian faith of the colonizers”

    I don’t think killing missionaries is a sign of “silent longing”…but then again Catholics do have that odd fascination with dead people and zombies.

    • Chenoa

      “silently longing” like a rape victim was “enjoying the attention”.

      • Mia

        Exactly.

        • http://heathenfaith.blogspot.com Norse Alchemist

          No no, that’s not how it works. It’s like this, it’s an incomplete quote:

          “in 2007 Benedict asserted that indigenous populations in South America were “silently longing” for the Christian faith of the colonizers” …. to leave.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jacquiemg Jacquie Minerva Georges

    I was just telling Star, at Patheos, how much I miss Haiti. I’ve not been there since 1996, so this may have change since the quake. Yet, I do remember that it wasn’t atypical to participate in a Vodou “parade” on top of the mountains down to the Catholic church cathedral. In America this would sound bizarre and it’s forbidden. Yet, in countries, like Haiti, when the leaders are firm in religious belief/freedom of its citizens the Vatican must oblige by the countries norms. That being said, the Pope may make brazen remarks to national leaders or media. Yet, when it’s all said and done–his words holds no barring. Last month or a couple of month he met with Yoruba leaders and was respectful. I’m sure he will be respectful (bite his tongue) upon visiting leaders of the Vodun faith of Benin. For ones edification the Vodun faith of Benin has a Pope. So it may be Vatican Pope meets Vodun Pope.

  • http://egregores.wordpress.com Apuleius Platonicus

    BAck in 1998 Angelique Kidjo did an interview in which she talked about the relationship between Vodun and Catholicism in Benin, which is her native country. Here is what she said in part:

    “When the missionaries arrived in Benin, for example, and they brought the religion, they asked everyone to be baptized, and everybody had been baptized but, we told them from day one that our religion we wanna keep it because our religion is very important for us. And they were obliged to accept that, there was no way for them not to accept that because people wouldn’t go to their church and not go into their Voodoo ceremony after. So the first cathedral that had been built in the history of the Catholic religion in Benin was built right in front of the Temple of Python. And those two priests were very close friends. And how did those affect my life and I incorporate them in my life? It’s simple. In the Voodoo religion they teach us to respect the nature and to respect every human being. Everything that is alive on this earth we have to have respect for because we believe in Voodoo religion that without the nature, a man would not exist, a human being would not exist. Therefore, we choose to believe in the thunder, in the lightning, in the water, in all the elements that are surrounding us, our lives. Snake is very important because they say in the mythology of the Voodoo religion that this world had been created by two snakes, male and female; during 40 days they created all the planets. And at the dawn of the 41st day, they embraced themselves and left the earth to leave the human being to do what they have to do. And those snakes are called aida-wedo, which means what belongs to the earth belongs to you. And when those gods come to reward somebody who works for a community, they come in terms of rainbow. And they call these two rainbows rainbow snake. And in Haiti, they call it aida-Houeda, and everything stays like that because, what is very important for me is the care of each other. That’s what Catholic religion teaches us: You have to love each other. God doesn’t send us on the earth to kill each other. He sent us for us to use our brain and our self-conscience to work for a better life for every individual and for everybody. And that’s one of the things I really appreciate, too, in the Voodoo religion, where we deal with community.”

    (for more of the interview, plus video of her performing live in Benin, go here: http://egregores.blogspot.com/2010/05/angelique-kidjo-on-voodoo-and.html )

    And here is a link to a 2006 interview she did with the BBC where she also talks quite a bit about Vodun (see especially page 2 of the 3 page interview):
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/tyne/content/articles/2006/11/01/kidjo_interview_feature.shtml

  • Anonymous

    “Late last month at the Vatican, Benedict lamented to bishops visiting from Angola and Sao Tome and Principe that African converts to Catholicism often persist in “practices that are incompatible with adherence to Christ,” including the “marginalization and even murder of children and elderly people, condemned by the false diktats of witchcraft.”

    Excuse me?!? False diktats of witchcraft? Witches are not responsible for the murder of women and others in these African countries! If anything, the misogynistic nature of the Abrahamic faiths, corrupting native practices, are.

    And what is so Christ-like about raping children, Benedict? If you are so concerned about welfare of children, you would clean your own house.

    • Lily

      A) Ratzinger (now Benedict) did clean house. It was his Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that started to investigate the abuses. If it were not for him, the abuses would probably still be going on unchecked. Now abusers are being called out, laicized, and prosecuted.

      B) Africa is a big continent. While some countries have problems with secular war, there actually are countries other countries that do have a problem with witchcraft, ie people doing things like killing children and breaking tabboos in order to gain occult power. Now, before you say that isn’t real witchcraft, please note that not every country has the same idea of witchcraft or magic as we do in America. Magic is a fairly universal concept, but imany cultures see it differently, and many have strict defintions of what constitutes good magic vs witchcraft. There are documented cases of people in Africa doing certain things (the case I remember most was a man burrying the bodies of children under his house) in order to gain magical power. It doesn’t matter that they may not gain any power whatsoever; the point is they are doing bad things to try and achieve it. Essentially, it doesn’t matter if a person really is a witch if he is actually murders people or mutilates bodies or whatnot. This is what the Church is talking about and must contend with.

  • http://egregores.wordpress.com Apuleius Platonicus

    Here is the “money quote” from an article about Ratzinger’s October 31 speech at the Vatican to visiting Angolan bishops (emphases added):

    “The spread of the ‘scourge’ of ‘witchcraft’, the Pope argued, stems from the fact that ‘the heart of the baptized’ is often ‘divided between Christianity and African traditional religions.’ ‘Being a regional problem,’ he recommended, ‘a joint effort of the ecclesial community would be important to counter this calamity, trying to determine the deep meanings of these practices, to identify the risks for pastoral and social development, and to find a method leading to its definitive eradication, with the cooperation of governments and civil society.’”

    This is from TheVaticanInsider.Com website (link).