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Cotonou, Benin -- Anyone just tuning in now to Pope Benedict XVI, who doesn’t know much about him but somehow caught wind of his Nov. 18-20 trip to Benin, could be forgiven a bit of confusion about exactly what the pope came here to say about the political role of Catholicism in Africa.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- There's only "one question worth asking" about religious life today, Holy Spirit Fr. Anthony Gittins told a crowd of some four hundred gathered for the Religious Formation Conference's congress here this morning.
Amidst continuing talk of diminishment of religious orders, and worries about how ministries will continue with fewer numbers, the professor, social activist, and hospital chaplain put it bluntly:
“Numbers and age are of little consequence," said Gittins. "The only question worth asking…is whether we are running, standing still, or just twitching nervously as we wait for death.”
Instead, Gittins, who is a professor of mission and culture at the Catholic Theological Union, said “now is the moment for religious to stand up and to stand fast." Otherwise, he said, “it remains a serious danger that the church of poverty and prayer will disappear.”
Offering concrete examples for how to do forward, Gittins said members of religious communtities must seek out the markings of "spirit-led" people to answer their call, including "looking for trouble" and leading lives that are "full and worthwhile and never boring."
By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
tArchbishop John Onaiyekan of Abuja, Nigeria, has long been one of Africa’s most visible, and most influential, Catholic prelates. He’s a former president of SECAM, the umbrella group for bishops’ conferences on the continent, as well as a former president of the Nigerian bishops. He’s also a member of the Vatican council of the Synod for Africa, which means he had a hand in drafting the post-synodal document, Africae Munus, or “Africa’s Commitment,” which Benedict XVI presented today in Benin.
tOnaiyekan, 67, is on hand in Benin, part of a cross-section of African bishops taking part in the papal trip. He sat down this afternoon for an interview with NCR, following a lunch in his Cotonou hotel which amounted to an informal reunion of bishops from up and down the continent.
tThe conversation with the always-outspoken Onaiyekan included the following highlights:
"A prophet is a conduit, a vessel for the holy," Dominican Sr. Barbara Reid said to an audience of religious sisters and brothers.
What does it mean to be "prophetic"?
Pope Benedict XVI came to Africa this weekend primarily to deliver his conclusions from a 2009 Synod of Bishops for Africa, representing a papal game plan for the faith in the region of its most explosive growth. He chose an evocative setting – the city of Ouidah on Benin’s Atlantic coast, a onetime slave port known as the spiritual capital of the Vodun religion, referred to in the West as voodoo.
The pontiff has repeatedly touted Africa as a source of hope, and he came it again today, repeating a 2009 line that Africa represents a “spiritual lung for a humanity that appears to be in a crisis of faith and hope.”
Heading into Pope Benedict XVI’s Nov. 18-20 trip to Benin, one bit of drama was whether this African outing, like the last one two years ago, would be engulfed by controversy over the pope’s stance on condoms and AIDS.
That now seems unlikely, for a simple reason: The “C” word has not passed from the pope’s lips.
In a West African city widely regarded as the spiritual capital of voodoo, Benedict XVI today urged Catholics to resist a “syncretism which deceives” and to uphold a Christian faith that “liberates from occultism” and “vanquishes evil spirits.”
The pope was speaking this morning to an audience of priests, seminarians, religious and laity gathered in the St. Gall Seminary in Ouidah, on day two of the pontiff’s Nov. 18-20 trip to Benin.
Located on Benin’s Atlantic coast, Ouidah is a onetime major slave port that today has a population of roughly 80,000. Benin is historically the cradle of the Vodun faith in West Africa, better known in the West as “voodoo,” and Ouidah is more or less its Vatican, hosting an annual international conference on Vodun. The city also boasts a famous voodoo python temple.
By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
tIf one were to survey African Catholic leaders about their most pressing social challenges, responses would likely focus on their struggles against corruption and religious intolerance. As it happens, those were precisely the two themes raised today by Pope Benedict XVI, in a highly anticipated speech to government and religious leaders at Benin’s Presidential Palace.
tFor an octogenarian German pontiff often accused of being Eurocentric, it came off as a remarkably ‘African’ message.
(The charge of Eurocentrism continues to dog the pope. Just last week, veteran Italian journalist Marco Politi published a new book, Crisis of a Papacy, arguing that Benedict is insufficiently attentive to the “global and geopolitical” dimension of his role.)