Dispelling Misconceptions About "Traditional Religions"

Vatican Conference Views a Far-flung Phenomenon

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VATICAN CITY, JAN. 12, 2005 (Zenit.org).- An international conference here is focusing on «the resources for peace in traditional religions,» which are frequently and inaccurately referred to as «animist.»

The meeting at the Vatican, which began today and ends Saturday, is promoted by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, whose president is Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald.

Conferees are analyzing «the contributions that can be made to peace by followers of tribal cults, spread throughout the continents, especially in Africa, where their number is estimated at 60 million,» Vatican Radio reported.

Archbishop Fitzgerald explained that «when we speak of traditional religions, we are thinking of ethnic or tribal religions, that is, those that have developed in a specific ethnic group and which, therefore, are different from the world religions, which go beyond national borders.»

«When we speak of traditional religions, we often think primarily of Africa,» he explained on Vatican Radio. «But they are not only in Africa. There is the whole spirituality of the Indians in Latin America. There is also the African religion that has gone to Latin America.»

These religions are also present in Asia. «In India, they are called ‘tribal’ and they have their particular spirituality, while in the Philippines followers of traditional religions live in the hills and mountains,» he added.

«We avoid the word ‘animist,’ as it gives the idea that animism considers wind, water and animals as inhabited by spirits which demand worship: In reality, it is not so,» the prelate said.

«Normally in these religions there is belief in the creator God, a supreme God, but there are also other mediating entities between God and humanity: forebears and other spirits. But it is not worship where a forest, tree, etc., is venerated. Divinity is not there,» the archbishop said.

The traditional religions «are not organized in a hierarchy. Many times the ‘chief’ is the head of the family, who offers prayers [and] sacrifices,» he added. Moreover, «they have secrets which they guard and which they don’t want to talk about. However, many people have converted to Christianity, starting from the ‘background’ of these religions.

«The Holy Spirit inspires good everywhere and we can see good things in these traditional religions that might also help our society.»

«And this is the objective of the study we are undertaking: to see what are the values of these religions for today’s society, for peace,» Archbishop Fitzgerald added.

«Participants in this congress are all Catholics, experts in traditional religions. There are no followers of these religions, as it is somewhat difficult to engage in direct dialogue with them.»

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