Thursday, April 30, 2009

Why Belief in Witchcraft Remains Strong Among Africans - Henry Makori

During his recent visit to Africa, Pope Benedict XVI spoke in Angola about many Africans “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. Who can go to them to proclaim that Christ has triumphed over death and all those occult powers?”

The pope was expressing his concern about the persistence of the belief in witchcraft among Africans. This belief is certainly widespread throughout the continent. In Kenya, hardly a day passes without news reports of this phenomenon, especially the harassment of suspected witches.

Since mid-2007, children have been kidnapped and murdered in Uganda in what are believed to be bizarre rituals to attain wealth. In Tanzania, the killing of albinos whose body parts are reportedly used to make charms has caused global consternation.

And last month, Amnesty International found out that up to 1,000 suspected witches in The Gambia had been kidnapped from their villages by witchdoctors employed by the government in a nationwide witch-hunting campaign.

Perhaps more astonishing for Christians was the revelation in 2006 by the bishops of southern Africa that "some Catholic priests act as Sangomas and call on the ancestors for healing." A Sangoma is a traditional diviner-healer whose many functions include counteracting witches.

But even when witchcraft is not making the headlines, it is still a daily issue in Africa. The southern African bishops noted 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, etc.”

Last year, Cardinal Polycarp Pengo of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and president of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) decried “the phenomenon common in many African societies of Christianity on Sunday morning and the practice of witchcraft and sorcery during the rest of the week.”

Why does belief in witchcraft persist? The attitude of mainstream Christianity is that witchcraft is a vestige of African ‘backwardness’, the evidence of incomplete conversion or relapse to ‘paganism’. More pastoral attention would stamp out the menace.

Witchcraft is also dismissed as ignorant superstition or fear of the unknown. The practitioners and their victims believe in powers that simply do not exist. Sometimes belief in the dark arts is attributed to mass poverty and state failure to ‘modernize’ the outlook especially of people living in the rural areas. It is argued that if people were better educated and had access to adequate healthcare they would understand that illness is caused by germs and not witchcraft.

But these explanations miss the biggest point. They fail to place witchcraft within the persistent African worldview. Belief in witchcraft is part and parcel of the moral universe as understood in African Traditional Religion. Contrary to popular belief, African Religion is still alive and well.

In African religious thought, the universe created by God ought to be harmonious, balanced and good. But mysterious evil powers exist that disrupt this order. Evil originates not merely from the breaking of taboos and other laws, but from spiritual, mystical powers at work in the universe.

The eminent Tanzanian theologian Fr. Laurent Magesa explains that witchcraft is supernatural. The witch is a person possessing or possessed of, or by, supernatural forces which he or she uses knowingly or unknowingly, selectively or indiscriminately, to harm others often for no apparent reason. Magesa writes that “evil, in the African perception, is always incarnated; it does not exist except as it exists in the evil person, that is, in the witch.”

So, how can belief in witchcraft be eradicated? This is hardly possible. According to Fr. Magesa, “in African Religion, witchcraft must be understood as part of the mystery of the human person”. Witchcraft is therefore central to the understanding of morality and ethics among Africans.

“In the African mentality, everything wrong or bad in society and in the world, and most particularly various afflictions, originates in witchcraft. There is no kind of illness or hardship at all that may not ultimately be attributed to witchcraft”.

Belief in witchcraft shall therefore persist as long as African Traditional Religion exerts influence on Africans. As it is, most African Christians subscribe to two faith traditions. Perhaps the church should not dismiss witchcraft as superstitious nonsense but instead develop appropriate pastoral responses that take into account the African worldview.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Pool Table

Recently we got ourselves a new pool table. This has led to fierce competition to determine who is the local champion!! I guess soon we will have to organise a competition to settle all arguements.

The table is made great use of ... even between classes!! It has brought a new dimension to our recreation and gradually most of us are trying our hand at it.

The room also houses our computers, the keyboard, a table tennis table and a dart board!! So as you can imagine there is lots of activity in that room which is slowly vying for the tag of being "Most Visited Room" in the novitiate!!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Visit from SVD House of Formation

On April 17th the students from the Divine Word Missionaries(SVD) St Freinademetz Formation House payed us a visit to interact with us through sport and social interaction.

The football match ended as a 2-2 draw but the more significant part of the evening was a to sit down and interact with each other as brothers after the game over some biscuits and soft drinks. It was a wonderful opportunity to share stories and experiences.

In their letter fo gratitude to us they expressed the desire to see more of these interactions and wished us well in our formation and for our stay here in their country and especially Tamale.

We look forward to meeting with them again.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Easter Picnic

April the 13th was the day for the Diocesan Easter picnic which took place at the Kamina Baracks in Tamale. It was the first time I have attended such a celebration. Even though Tamale is known to be hot, on that day it appeared to be blessed because it was very cool because of the overnight rains and cloud cover during the day. It was fantastic as the novices, as did so many other people, converged there to witness it.
We started off our Easter Monday with a Eucharistic celebration led by the Archbishop Emeritus of Tamale. During the day dancing groups from different cultural backgrounds gathered to exhibit their skills. I was drunk with joy as I walked around to catch a glimpse of what was going on in the various places.
We had the thought the crowd would thin as the day went on but to our surprise the crowd only got bigger. When it came for us to return it was hard to find each other in the crowd.
It was a wonderful and joyful celebration and all had a good time. (Cornelius)

Farewell John Foday Bainda

For the first time I’ve never trusted my ears when I heard from Br. Vivek that John Bainda will be travelling back to Sierra Leone on Easter Monday. It was a shock to me! I’ve enjoyed precious time with John and liked his skill of playing the wooden instrument. I wish John all the best in his endeavors. God bless you, John. (Otieno)

It’s hard to loose a friend that you have been used to for a long time. Indeed no person can replace the real you unless you be there yourself. I miss you John and have to appreciate your generosity and understanding, not forgetting your drumming. I miss you John and you will always be in my heart. What you have to know is that you are the key to your life and there is no one like you. All the best John in searching for peace of heart. Have courage and trust. (Sunday)

For the two months I’ve been with John in the community. I enjoyed his presence. One thing that I found to be unique with John is his relationship with people. He rarely called a person by his name. He referred to everyone as “my brother”. His gift of playing his special instrument that he brought along with him from Sierra Leone called ‘kele’ was admirable. It is surely painful that he is departing at the time I had started feeling his goodness in the community. I pray for blessings upon him. (Chrispinus)

John came to me on the 6th of April, 2009 and said “I’m going back to Sierra Leone ‘my Brother’, I trust you and that’s why I tell you and you are the first person I’m sharing this with”. I was shocked………I was confused and I didn’t know what to say. I was just sitting there and staring at him because I could tell from his looks and his voice that he was serious. I miss his gentle presence in the community. He would never raise his voice to anybody and would by all means avoid arguments. Thanks be to God for knowing a person like John. Let’s keep him in our prayers. (Jordaan)

It is difficult to enter in someone’s life likewise, coming out. Bidding farewell to John on Easter day, breed feelings of uneasiness, ‘my brother’ as he always addressed me shade tears. Worse more on Friday, April 17, 2009 when I went to the ministry site where we accompanied each other in the quest for “Gods will for Africa”, the above feeling sprang again as every staff member asked about my brother John. In my cheerlessness I wish him well in his future endeavors. (Sydney)

The Fragility of Simon Peter, the Apostle

No Christian can deny that Peter was a dedicated and a true disciple of Jesus Christ. I admire in him the aspect of not losing hope even when things turned bizarre for him. For that matter, I developed an interest to closely observe his weaknesses during Easter as illustrated in the gospels of Matthew and John. Here are some of my observations:
He had a little faith and that is why he almost sank in the water on trying to work the way Jesus himself did (Mt 14:28-30). He had no option other than seeking assistance from Jesus.
When Jesus foretold his death, Peter called him aside to rebuke him and told him that it should not happen. That statement made Jesus to refer to him as a Satan and reminded him that he was still thinking as human beings (Mt 17:14)
During the transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain, Peter is clearly depicted as a thinker. His happiness is beyond control and suggests constructing three tents, one for Jesus, one for Moses and one for Elijah. He finds life so good that he no longer thinks about going down the hill to continue with the mission. (Mt 17:14)
‘Though all may have their faith in you shaken, mine will never be’ (Mt 26:33) Peter proclaimed when Christ told him that Peter would deny him. He vowed to die with Jesus and that he would never deny him. The question is - did he keep the promise?
Jesus took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebeede to pray at Gethsemane, the time when his soul was sorrowful to death. To his dismay, the three sons were completely dead to the world at that particular time when he was under great agony. He said to Peter, “So you could not keep watch with me for an hour.” (Mt 26:41)
At the arrest of Jesus, he tuned red and lost control of himself. The only thing he could think of was his sword. He took it out and within a twinkle of an eye, Malchus’ right ear was down. Jesus had to intervene to avoid more blood shed since he was a non-violent Messiah (see John 18:10)
Peter was indeed a funny disciple. This is vivid when Jesus was entering the court yard of the high priest. One of the disciples entered with Jesus but Peter chose to remain outside the compound. On being brought in and questioned whether he was one of the disciples, he had a short answer for that “I am not”. While Jesus was being questioned by the high priest about who he was, Peter was standing by the fire warming himself with the guards as if he was one of them.(John 18:15-18)
After denying the Messiah, he is not heard of at all until the resurrection when he ran towards the tomb with another disciple (John20:4). I wonder where Peter was during the passion and crucifixion of Jesus.
I therefore pray that my weaknesses should not discourage me but spur me to make the necessary effort.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Looking back at Holy Week

The night before Passion Sunday the community had a meeting on how to celebrate the holy week. Then, questions were raised in my mind on the significance and what it is all about. I think the week is all about love and service to all Christians.
Paying my attention to Good Friday when the church commemorates its origin from Christ, meditate on the Passion of the Lord and to intercede for the salvation of the longing world. I suppose this is time to remember the greatness of God’s Love for his people and creation not to torn and tear ourselves apart. I like how John presents the Passion story in his gospel not leaving us mourning or trembling, but he tries to help us realize that the suffering, crucifixion and burial is the Feast of glorification. Meditating on the crying out of Jesus, “Father into your hands I commend my Spirit” he knew that everything had been taken away except his spirit. ‘The Lord God formed man out of clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life’ (Gen 2:7)
This is the greatest gift God has given me and he wishes that at the end of my life, I should be able to happily say “Father into your hands I commend my Spirit” The only thing the world cannot take away from me - my spirit. My spirit lives forever, the question is to where after death?

Friday, April 10, 2009

Celebrating our very own Seder Meal

It was a fantastic experience to partake in the Pascal meal; it was a time of prayer, learning and feasting as a community. Taking part in the banquet helped me to deepen my understanding of what the Passover and the mystery of Easter really means. The mandate of washing the feet – the commandment to Love and of Service to each another, came out clearly. I wish all humanity to live by it always. The question I asked during the event as the youngest about the significance of the night had some realism to me and thanks to Vivek for arranging the day in a systematic way. Upon pronouncing the last line of the feast “Next year in the New Jerusalem” many comments were passed; “It was nice. I enjoyed it. This is what it means. I have learnt a lot. Bitter herbs helped me to reflect on today’s world situations. There are some similarities with African culture. My eyes are opened. I felt belong washing hands and sharing everything together” (Sydney)

“Was my heart not burning from within when we celebrated this meal? To me it was a new venture in my life. I had heard of the Seder meal before but had never been present at one. I am ever grateful to the formation team for putting me in touch with the Israelites and their experience in Egypt as slaves.” (Otieno)

Curiosity killed a cat, that’s what they say. But no, it made me eager and anticipating, to have an experience of the Seder meal. This truly marvelous and meticulously arranged celebration gave me a real picture of the Passover. It being my first time to celebrate the Seder meal, I was highly fascinated by the chronology of the meal. The pouring of wine, the breaking of bread, the bitter herbs and the meal itself. (Nicholas)

At long last, the Seder meal was finally here. It was good to kill all the anxiety by participating in the Seder meal. At least I know what it is all about and how the institution was started. In addition I can see the possibilities that might have made the disciples to sleep at the garden! However the meal reminded me of berakah (Praise, bless and thanks). (Sunday)

Wednesday was my first experience of the Seder Meal. I was curious to see how it would be and at the same time enthusiastic to participate in all ways possible. I had thought it would be just about food but it also helped me to reflect on the pain and suffering of the Israelites at the hands of Pharaoh, as well as relating this with the struggles and pains that different people in the world today are going through. At the end of the day I was happy with the experience and satisfied with the four cups of wine, the four pieces of bread and the sweet Charoset and the bitter herbs. (Chrispinus)
“Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu” meaning a person is only a person through their relation to others. The spirit of ubuntu was so active at our Seder celebration. It was my first time to take part in it and I’ve learnt quite a lot - from the preparations that start in the early afternoon to the main celebration itself. This time around I would describe ubuntu as “it’s all about community”. The word ubuntu comes from the Bantu languages spoken in southern Africa, but I tell you for the first time I felt it in West Africa, Tamale. The Holy Spirit was at work in each one of us, as everything went according to plan and it was just wonderful to get in touch with myself, things that enslave me and the sufferings within and without. Gods love endures forever. Next year in the New Jerusalem! (Jordaan)

The redemption affected by the word incarnate, was aimed at the reintroduction of human kind into the bosom of the trinity. We may rightly say that the purpose of the whole drama of Calvary was the indwelling of the trinity in people’s hearts as it was taught very clearly again as we celebrated the Seder meal on the eve of Holy Thursday. The narration of the whole story from captivity to the Promised Land reminded me of the love of God to all people and how our God keeps his promises. We are an Easter people and may Jesus of Easter live in our hearts as we sing Alleluia. (Paul)

Is it..? It is!! He is Alive!

On Easter Sunday ... At Emmaus!
She listens, listens, holding
her breath. surely that voice
is his – the One
who had looked at her, once, across the crowd,
as no one ever had looked?
Had seen her? Had spoken as if to her?

Surely those hands were his,
taking the platter of bread from hers just now?
Hands he’d laid on the dying and made them well?

Surely that face – ?

The man they’d crucified for sedition and blasphemy.
the man whose body disappeared from the tomb.
the man it was rumoured now some women had seen this morning,

Those who had brought this stranger home to their table
don’t recognise yet with whom they sit.
but she in the kitchen, absently touching the winejug she’s to take in
a young black servant intently listening,

swings round and sees
the light around him
and is sure.

(Denise Levertov - Breathing the Water)

Dream shattered ... life renewed!

On Holy Saturday...

The upper room … crowded with fear and doubt.
Sealed by heavy stone the tomb guarded and quiet.
With ointment and spices Mary ventures out
Dream shattered,
Fear and courage,
despondency and hope,
dejection and expectancy,
Life renewed!
The earth stirs, the stone rumbles,
Empty … utter fullness …
Nothingness … fruition …
“Mary!” … “Rabbouni!”

Thursday, April 9, 2009

This is my body broken for you

On Good Friday...

"In stillness nailed.
To hold all time,
all change,
all circumstances
in and to Love’s embrace."

(Cynthia Bourgeault)

Do you understand what I have done to you?

On Holy Thursday.....

"I slept and dreamt that life was joy.
I awoke and saw that life was service.
I acted and behold service was joy."

(Rabindranath Tagore)

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Holy Week

Today we begin by far the most sacred week in the year. We celebrate this week the invitation to love and serve our fellow beings as Jesus loved. Its an invitation to listen for God so intently that we surrender our will to the will of God for the greater good of all human kind and the world.

I have added three new songs - "This is my body", "Pie Jesu" and "Exsultate". I feel they capture for me in song the feeling and spirit of the Easter Tridium. Hope it helps you too to touch into the immense mystery of this week.

May you have a blessed and prayerful Holy Week. Let us hold each other in prayer this week.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Taking Earth hour to the next level - Way to go Delhi!!

The Delhi Government has proposed to hold an Earth Hour on the last working day of every month urgings residents to switch off non-essential lights to save power on the lines of the recently held global campaign. "The Earth Hour will continue. All lights in government buildings should be switched off at 8.30 pm on the last working day of the month for an hour," Delhi government's environment secretary J K Dadoo said. The proposal has been given the go-ahead by chief minister Sheila Dikshit, Dadoo said.

"It is an important concept and we will get support from the people of Delhi just as we did for the global campaign," Dadoo added. According to officials, Delhi managed to save a whopping 10,000 MW of power. The rainy evening had also attributed to power cuts but a major chunk of the saving was thanks to Earth Hour. The monthly affair could save up to 100 MW of power every month.

"Like what we had done for the March 28 campaign, we will communicate with 2,000 residents welfare associations (RWAs), with 2,000 students in school ecological clubs and market associations as well," Dadoo said. "We have also asked the Archaeological Survey of India to switch off the lights at the national monuments like India Gate and Humayun Tomb during the time," Dadoo added.

So will it work?

"After the success of March 28, I think it is possible. Do not underestimate the will of 2,000 RWAs and thousands of people," Dadoo stressed.

Ravi Singh of the WWF-India lauded the Delhi government's proposal. "The Delhi government's action shows that positive voluntary action by citizens can lead to good things for larger benefits for environment. Secondly, I am sure that if Delhi takes the lead then other cities and states are likely to follow and can be pursued," Singh said.

The global campaign to save energy emerged at a crucial time, months ahead of the Copenhagen climate change summit. Singh said the government's role now is even more pressing than ever. "The one billion people in India endorsed the Earth Hour campaign that says something significant about how the issue of climate is perceived here," Singh added

(Taken from the Times of India, 2nd April 2009.... hope this is no April Fool's Joke!!)
I hope other cities follow suit soon!!!