Pope John Paul II sought common ground with believers in voodoo Thursday, suggesting they would not betray their traditional faith by converting to Christianity.
On the second day of his 10th African pilgrimage, the Pope held a dramatic and emotional meeting with priests of the vodun , as the ancestral gods are known in the Fon language.
The Catholic church seeks to maintain a dialogue with voodoo followers but frowns on superstitious practices. Voodoo worshipers believe in one God but also in lesser deities. Snakes and fetishes are important in the ritual.
The Pope told the voodooists that just as they draw on their ancestors for their religion, so do Christians revere their "ancestors in the faith, from the Apostles to the missionaries." The "ancestors" of missionaries already had their own faiths before converting and lost nothing by becoming Christians, he added.
Voodoo priests at the meeting warmly welcomed the pontiff. "I have never seen God, but today when I have seen the Pope, I recognize that I have seen the good God who prays for all the voduns ," said Sossa Guedehoungue, head of Benin's vodun community.
Voodoo leader Senou Zannou gave a formal speech, in which he announced that his son was becoming a Roman Catholic priest. But he also offered a defense of his faith.