In mid-November 2011, Pope Benedict XVI visited Ouidah, Benin to address the public and unveil his most recent exhortation titled Africae Munus (“Africa’s Commitment”). Portions of Africae Munus, and some of the Pope’s accompanying remarks, were deeply disturbing and reminiscent of the Catholic Church’s early rationalization for Christianizing Africa, conquering the Americas as well as parts of South Asia and the Pacific. Among other comments, Pope Benedict voiced opposition to the “syncretism” of Catholicism with indigenous religious beliefs, used descriptive terms such as “occultism” and “evil” in reference to African religions and called for a “profound evangelization” of Africans.
Given the Pope’s high visibility within global media networks, his comments perpetuate on a mass-scale centuries old stereotypes of Africans – and many other non-Christian and non-white peoples by extension – as backward, sub-human and in need of “civilization.” However well-intentioned his comments, these images irresponsibly fuel and help justify the myriad forms of cultural, economic, and social violence that many indigenous and non-Westernized peoples continue to endure today around the globe.
The Orisa Community Development Corporation – a United States-based nonprofit organization dedicated to the economic and social empowerment of practitioners of the various African-based Orisa traditions – wrote an open letter to the Pope calling for the amendment of the Africae Munus and the withdrawal of his offensive comments. The full text of the letter can be found here: Open Letter to Pope Benedict XVI
We are asking all those who support true religious and cultural freedom to join with us in challenging these troublesome ideas by signing this petition in support of our open letter and the following affirmation:
We – practitioners, scholars and supporters – of indigenous peoples, religions and cultures disagree with the denigration and disrespect of indigenous peoples and their cultures. We believe in the value of all religions and cultures and do not believe that any religious group – however well-meaning they might be – should seek to force its views on another. We support the Orisa CDC in taking Pope Benedict XVI to task on his negative comments about African religions – and all indigenous religions by extension – and believe that true interreligious peace and understanding can flourish only in an environment of mutual respect.
We ask you to sign this petition and spread word of our campaign to all the relevant individuals and organizations in your network.
For more information, please contact us at Media@OrisaCDC.org.