Sharing Christ across cultural and national boundaries, as missionaries do, impels us to engage with the traditional religiosity of those to whom we are sent. Out of great respect for a faith already present, we seek to find the signs of Christ already present in our non-Christian brothers and sisters, openness to dialogue and learning. Xaverian Missionary, Fr. Minani, writes about this in his work in Sierra Leone, West Africa.
It is uncertain to describe or explain a phenomenon such as beliefs. First, it is difficult to say anything on the beliefs or faith of other people. Second, belief is not material thus difficult to describe. This text presented by Centre d’Etudes Africaines (CEA) – a Xaverian African Study Centre– has been elaborated by Rev. Faustino Turco, s.x. He describes traditional, cultural, religious beliefs and taboos showing their values and limits. He did his research in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central Africa. Various ancestral, religious and occult practices in Africa aim to find responses to vital questions: Where am I coming from, what is my identity? Where am I going; what is my destiny? Where is my distress coming from? What should I do to find felicity? Who is God? What is Transcendence? What is the nature of human being? What is the eschatological meaning of human existence? Like any religion, these beliefs aim to respond somehow to human existential anguish.
Today, in Africa it is becoming more and more difficult to find genuine places such as temples, shrines, sacred groves, etc. where to get ancestral knowledge and initiation. Instead of those energizing milieus, you find esoteric movements, sects and new spiritualities that push people to always imitate gestures, liturgies and rituals of others (charismatic leader, pastor or marabou); you find parrots who repeat everyday words and formulas which they don’t understand the true meaning.
Many Africans have lost their true being because they hung on the fragments of others’ beings. To take advantage of what comes from other people’s richness, you need to be consistent; you need to know truly what is in your intellectual, ethic and spiritual essence. How can one take back his or her lost true being? -You need a psychological, philosophical and spiritual attentiveness in order to relearn how to distinguish what is true from what is wrong, -you need to take back richness from African traditions leaving out obsolete and useless practices and the psychosis that push people to opt for wrong solutions to vital problems of Africa today.
How are we going to avoid a radical rupture between culture, society and the Gospel in an ever changing Africa? What should we do to prevent the ousting of the Gospel by African cultural claims, the replacing of liturgy by folklores, the substitution of meditation by animations, and the destruction of traditional therapeutic techniques by modern medicine? How are we going to discourage charlatans who pretend to be specialists in order to enrich themselves by cheating on weak and ignorant people? We’d better follow Amadou Hampâté Bâ, an old wise African man if we want to build a viable, tolerant, and inclusive society. We need to:
“Be open to others and to the world by a deep listening that increases knowledge and gives wisdom; develop a great vision rooted in the past in order to enrich future generations; promote a frank language that says only what is required for community life; set up a society where there is room for solidarity and loyalty. African societies need to rediscover the mystic depth in a context where prayer has become a junk of delirium and noisy mystifications. African churches and societies are full of loud deafening tumult; we need to cultivate time of silence for God in the depth of our hearts.”
Traditional or modern beliefs, religious or profane, Christian or pagan, all beliefs seek to restore vital energy and strive to expel evil by all means. They imply some desires:
- Desire of inculturation for new religious movements: refusal of reducing the Gospel to superstitious popular pious images in order to partake in the charismatic spirit of Christianity animated by the power of the Holy Ghost, the Paraclete of new life and new values fundamentally human.
- Desire of liberation from taboos: beliefs seek new interpretations or orientations less enslaving. Liberation from suffering by finding out at all cost its author. Self-victimization and the incrimination of others make life’s sufferings more bearable. Sickness is not seen as natural; it comes from Satan or a witch. Thus it is necessary to obtain liberation which consists in getting rid of the root of evil.
- Desire of prosperity: people believe that misery comes from Satan or witch’s spell or curse. However, laziness, fear, and neglect are the main causes of people’s misery. Thus, we need to fight all causes of human misfortune.
In order to get rid of endemic fear that paralyses life in Central Africa, we need to overthrow mystic mentality. Turco recommends genuine dialogue between spiritual values and local culture. He encourages the revival of Christian faith by integrating emotion and cognition. He would like to promote “Ecclesial Ministry of Proximity” and, in catechesis, to elucidate the healing power of Christian sacraments, of exorcism and other sacramentals.
15 February 2018