By Arnold Neliba
LOME, NOVEMBER 17, 2023 (CISA) – While calling for respect and recognition of the traditional African religious beliefs and practices, adding that not all religious beliefs were demonic, Most Rev Nicodème Barrigah-Benissan, the Archbishop of Lomé has described the push by some Pan-Africanists for a return to the practice of the African traditional religion as a reaction against the demonization of the ancestral cultures by westerners.
“Indeed, carried by the mentality of their time and their ignorance of our cultures, many missionaries thought that all our rites and traditions were diabolical. It was therefore necessary to renounce it before being baptized. We must recognize it and humbly ask for forgiveness,” he said.
Speaking to Lacroix Africa, the archbishop stated that some of the biases against the African ancestral culture have been refuted over time. He argued that a lot has to be done to achieve real inculturation in the Catholic Church. That, he says will entail discerning what, in our ancestral cultures and practices, is compatible with the Christian faith and what is not.
Pan-Africanists have in recent times questioned Christianity and set it up for rejection by the African people for being against the African culture. This ideology has been conveyed in Pan-African circles, out of which anti-Christian messages have been conveyed.
“It is in this context that certain Pan-Africanists and certain young people advocate a pure and simple return to ancestral practices and religions which alone could allow Africans to realize their aspiration for freedom as well as the development of the continent,” the archbishop said.
To help the faithful live their Christian faith and understand the intersections between Christianity and the African culture, Archbishop Barrigah-Benissan picked the theme for the pastoral year 2023-2024 as “evangelization facing our cultures: challenges and opportunities” for the Catholic Archdiocese of Lome.
“The Council of Jerusalem attests to this: it was questioned whether faith in Jesus was sufficient to be saved or whether it was also necessary to impose the traditional rules of Judaism on new converts,” he argued, further noting that “this question has become crucial today for us in Africa because, at the time of claiming our identity and the struggle for liberation from the colonial yoke, it is difficult for Africans to ignore the historical context in which this faith has reached us.”
Although not everything in the culture is compatible with the Gospel, the archbishop appreciates that the traditional African practice recognizes the existence of God whose name varies from one culture to another.
He also appreciates how the African culture bears many spiritual, moral, social, cultural and political values, which we must carefully preserve and promote.