Pope vis­its African voodoo cap­i­tal

Pon­tiff signs pa­pal doc­u­ment in cathe­dral across road from ‘Tem­ple of the Pythons’

Ottawa Citizen - - WORLD - PHILIP PUL­LELLA

OUIDAH, Benin • Pope Bene­dict on Satur­day vis­ited the city con­sid­ered the cap­i­tal of voodoo in West Africa, pray­ing at a Catholic cathe­dral just across the street from a large voodoo tem­ple with a pit full of pythons.

While the Pope was in­side the Cathe­dral of the Im­mac­u­late Con­cep­tion to sign a pa­pal doc­u­ment on Africa, sev­eral dozen voodoo priests and their wives sat out­side their tem­ple in cu­rios­ity and in a ges­ture of wel­come.

“For them, the Pope is the top of the top,” said Alexan­dre Ayite, a Benin diplo­mat in the re­ceiv­ing line in the cathe­dral.

A sign painted on the wall out­side the voodoo com­plex read ‘Tem­ple of the Pythons’ and a statue of a bare-breasted wo­man hold­ing sev­eral snakes stood by the en­trance. In­side was a small stone house with about two dozen large and baby pythons.

A voodoo priest put five or six around his neck and arms for a vis­it­ing reporter. Dressed in red, the snake priest and oth­ers dressed in white said they had noth­ing against the Pope’s visit.

In­side the cathe­dral, the Pope cer­e­mo­ni­ously signed a pa­pal doc­u­ment on Africa in which he re­flected on the re­sults of a 2009 synod of African bish­ops which took place at the Vat­i­can.

The doc­u­ment was mostly of a re­li­gious na­ture, but in its brief sec­tion on AIDS, the Pope avoided di­rectly ad­dress­ing the is­sue of the use of con­doms to fight the spread of HIV/AIDS.

He sparked con­tro­versy when he last came to Africa in 2009, telling re­porters on his plane con­doms could spread AIDS. The Vat­i­can later said his re­marks were taken out of con­text.

In the doc­u­ment, the Pope said AIDS was, above all, an eth­i­cal prob­lem. He called for a “change in be­hav­iour” and re­peated the church’s teach­ing that the best way to fight AIDS is sex­ual ab­sti­nence, re­jec­tion of sex­ual promis­cu­ity and fidelity within mar­riage. He did not use the word “con­dom” in the doc­u­ment, which re­peated synod state­ments on the need for Catholics in Africa to have good re­la­tions with Is­lam and tra­di­tional re­li­gions while not re­lin­quish­ing any part of their iden­tity.

The Pope’s visit to Ouidah was also to pay trib­ute to the tomb of one of Benin’s most fa­mous na­tive sons, Cardin- al Bernardin Gantin, who worked in the Vat­i­can for many years. He died in 2008.

Ear­lier on Satur­day, the 84-year-old pon­tiff said the de­vel­oped world could not con­tinue to look down on Africa “with the judg­men­tal tone of a mor­al­izer” and must come up with real part­ner­ship so­lu­tions to solve the con­ti­nent’s many prob­lems.

He made his ap­peal in an ad­dress to of­fi­cials of Benin, in­clud­ing Pres­i­dent Thomas Boni Yayi and the diplo­matic corps, on the sec­ond day of his trip.

The Pope said the rest of the world should not see Africa merely as a place whose vast re­sources of en­ergy, min­er­als, agri­cul­ture and peo­ple “are eas­ily ex­ploited of­ten for du­bi­ous ends.”

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