Pope Calls for Conversion From Witchcraft in Africa

By Victor L. Simpson
Associated Press
Sunday, March 22, 2009

LUANDA, Angola, March 21 -- Tens of thousands of Angola's Catholics lined the streets of the capital Saturday for a blessing from Pope Benedict XVI, who urged the country's faithful to reach out and convert people who believe in witchcraft.

"In today's Angola," he said at Mass in Luanda, "Catholics should offer the message of Christ to the many who live in the fear of spirits, of evil powers by whom they feel threatened."

He also gave a message of hope to young people, including some wounded and maimed during Angola's long civil war, when he addressed a crowd of some 30,000 people later at a sports stadium, where a drum concert was held.

"I think of the many tears you shed for the loss of relatives," he told the crowd.

Drawing on the more than 500 years of Roman Catholicism in Angola, he called Christianity a bridge between the local peoples and the Portuguese settlers.

Angola's history as a Portuguese colony gave the country Christian roots. Eighty percent of the 16 million people are Christian, about 65 percent Catholic.

Hours before he arrived at the Coqueiros stadium, a stampede broke out as the gates were opened to people waiting outside, and two people were killed in the crush, said a Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi.

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.

On Friday, Benedict lamented what he called strains on the traditional African family, condemning sexual violence against women and chiding countries that have approved abortion.

Lombardi, who is traveling with the pope, told journalists Saturday that Benedict in that speech was referring to abortion when used as a means of "population control."

Earlier in the week-long trip, the pope's first to Africa, Benedict drew criticism from aid agencies and some European governments when he said condoms were not the answer to Africa's severe AIDS epidemic, suggesting that sexual behavior was the issue.

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