No to witchcraft, yes to Christ: Southern African Bishops

Southern African bishops have warned priests in a pastoral letter published on Friday not to moonlight as witchdoctors and to steer clear of fortune telling, ancestor worshiping and other traditional African practices.

Reuters reports that the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference, which represents bishops in South Africa, Swaziland and Botswana, said in the pastoral letter some priests were adopting the traditional African practice of calling on ancestors for healing.

"We notice with a measure of concern, that many African Christians, during difficult moments in their lives, resort to practices of the traditional religion: the intervention of ancestral spirits, the engagement of spirit-mediums, spirit-possession, consulting diviners about lost items and about the future, magical practices and identifying (smelling out) one's enemies," the bishops wrote.

"Fear of the spirit world has become intensified instead of the love of the ever-merciful God definitively revealed by Christ through his death and resurrection."

The bishops ordered priests to "desist from practices involving spirits," and to steer clear from witchcraft, fortune-telling and selling spiritual powers or magic medicines.

"The belief that ancestors are endowed with supernatural powers borders on idolatry. It is God, and God alone, who is all-powerful while the ancestors are created by him," said the pastoral letter to priests.

"Christ is our great Healer who wants to heal people - more than the healing for which they yearn. He wants to share with us everlasting life and never ending health," the bishops added.

Many in Southern Africa turn to sangomas - or traditional healers - to cure illness, ward off evil spirits and even improve their sex lives. Sangomas, who play a key role in rural communities but are also revered by many in towns and cities, call on ancestral spirits to heal and give advice.

Some Christian sects, like the South Africa-based Zion Christian Church, fuse traditional African beliefs about the power of the ancestors with orthodox Christianity.

The Southern African bishops said Catholic priests should instead heal in the name of Jesus Christ, and should tend to the soul, not just the body.

Bishops warn priests against witchcraft (Reuters, 16/8/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Ancestor Religion and the Christian Faith (Southern Africa Catholic Bishops Conference, Pastoral Statement, 11/8/06)

17 Aug 2006