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Catholics in Benin Mixing Christianity with Witchcraft after 160 Years of Evangelization

A significant number of Catholics in Benin have been said to have one foot in the Church and another one in indigenous ways of worship after over a century of Missionary work in the West African country.

The Catholic Church in Benin is celebrating 160 years of evangelization with roots to the arrival on 18 April 1861 of Fr. Francesco Borghero and Fr. Francisco Fernandez, missionaries of the Society of African Missions (SMA) in the country.

The two were not the first missionaries to come into contact with the subjects of the powerful Kingdom of Dahomey (a pre-colonial kingdom in Benin), Agenzia Fides has reported.

However, with the two missionaries, there was, for the first time, “a project by the Catholic Church to create a stable presence of missionaries in those lands, already frequented by Europeans for the trafficking of slaves,” Agenzia Fides adds in the Wednesday, April 14 report.

The arrival of missionaries in Benin and their work is said to have yielded immense fruit, with the Catholic church growing to make up a significant chunk of Christianity in the country.

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Romain Hounzandji, a Catholic university professor who wrote to Agenzia Fides in reference to the celebration of the 160 years of evangelization in Benin says, “The missionary work was the seed from which the Beninese clergy and entire generations of convinced Christians germinated, whose vision and action have contributed to making our Church in Benin a Church capable of enriching the entire universal Church with its gifts.”

Fr. Didier Affolabi, the Rector of Saint-Gall de Ouidah major Seminary, remembers that one of the first actions of Fr. Borghero and Fr. Fernandez, already in 1862, was to open a school for children in the area, Agenzia Fides has reported.

Today, the information service of the Vatican's Propaganda Fide reports, in a country of only 8.8 million inhabitants, of which 27 percent are Catholic, there are 523 Catholic educational institutions. These include 113 kindergartens, 266 primary schools, 138 secondary and preparatory schools, five universities, and a teacher training institute.

The only challenge however, according to a Catholic journalist quoted in the April 14 Agenzia Fides report, is getting the people of God in Benin to worship the one true God.

“The Church of Benin faces the immense task of in- depth evangelization,” the journalist says.

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He adds, “Unfortunately many Catholics still have one foot in the church and one foot in the various sanctuaries of traditional religion, where they are promised power and wealth at a good price.”