Pope Benedict has urged Catholics in Angola to shun witchcraft and to reach out to people who believe in spirits and sorcerers. Human rights groups say many abandoned children in the country have been accused of being witches.
REUTERS - Pope Benedict on Saturday urged Catholics in Angola to shun witchcraft and woo back those who have left the Catholic church to join other religious groups, including some that believe in spirits and sorcerers.
The 81-year-old pope, showing signs of fatigue in the humid heat, said a mass for several thousand people inside a church as thousands followed the service outside.
In his homily, he urged his listeners to reach out to those Angolans who believe in witchcraft and spirits.
"So many of them are living in fear of spirits, of malign and threatening powers. In their bewilderment they even end up condemning street children and the elderly as alleged sorcerers," he said.
Last year police rescued 40 children held in a house by two religious sects after their own families accused them of witchcraft. The sect leaders were later arrested.
Charismatic guerrilla leader Jonas Savimbi, for example, who led the opposition party UNITA in its war with the government, fought alongside a woman whose magic he believed would protect him from enemy fire.
But belief in spirits in Angola goes beyond evangelical sects. Human rights groups say many abandoned children have been accused of being witches, particularly in rural areas, because they are believed to be possessed by malign spirits.
The flourishing of evangelical sects has been a big problem for the Catholic Church since the end of the 27-year-old civil war in 2002.
The number of sects in the former Portuguese colony has jumped to 900 from just 50 in 1992 -- the year the government abandoned Marxism, according to Angola's national institute on religion.
Experts say the sects attract Angolans because their rituals are very intense and blend in traditional African beliefs, and some promise an immediate end to suffering in a country where the majority of the population is still very poor.
In his homily, the pope urged Catholics to try to convince those who had left the Church that "Christ has triumphed over death and all those occult powers".
On Saturday night the pope presided at a rally for tens of thousands of young people at Luanda stadium and remarked that some in the crowd had been injured by landmines.
"I think of the countless tears that have been shed for the loss of your relatives and friends," he said.
Angola is one of the most densely mined countries in the world. Despite an extensive demining program since the end of the civil war there are still thousands of square kilometres (miles) of uncleared land.
As many as 80,000 people have been injured by landmines and the lives of more than 2 million people have been affected.
The late Princess Diana toured a minefield in Angola in 1997 to raise awareness of the dangers of landmines to children long after a conflict is over. She is believed to have influenced the signing of the Ottawa treaty, which created an international ban on the use of anti-personnel landmines.
Date created : 2009-03-21