PNG Highlands Bishops wage war on sorcery
29 JUL 2013
In a timely move the Catholic Bishops of the Papua New Guinea Highlands Region uphold Christian faith and oppose the deeply entrenched traditional belief in ‘sanguma’, through which human death is allegedly caused by sorcerers or witches. This often leads to persecution and killing of innocent people conveniently coming from the weak and defenceless in society. Instead, “If someone gets sick, don’t even talk about sanguma. The only power sanguma has comes from people talking about it and fearing it”, write the five bishops of whom two, Bp. Arnold Orowae of Wabag and Bp. Anton Bal of Kundiawa (presenter to the group), are men from the Highlands. The horrible fruit of belief in sanguma was highlighted earlier this year when a young mother was burned alive in Mt. Hagen following allegations of having caused the sickness and death of a small boy. Government has enacted tougher legislation, but law enforcement agencies will not be able to cope unless the cultural and spiritual change the bishops wish to promote takes place.
“God put all things under Christ’s feet and gave him to the church as a supreme Lord over all things.” (Eph. 1:22)
Brothers and sisters in Christ,
We Catholic Bishops from the Highlands region are sending this letter to all parishes in the PNG Highlands because we want to express our deep concern about a growing problem in our communities. That is, when some people accuse others of using sorcery or sanguma to kill or harm other people. This stems from a modern corruption of some traditional beliefs. When people following such beliefs get involved in torturing innocent people and even killing them, we have not only a crime against humanity, but a serious betrayal of the Gospel, our faith in the supreme Lordship of Christ, and of the liberating work of the church. There is often an issue of justice here also since it is well known that many allegations are based on old grudges and target the weak and vulnerable.
“Satan” and “the Devil” are ways to talk about the reality of the existence of evil forces. In the Bible we read how Jesus ministered to the sick and how he cast out evil spirits (Mat 17: 14-21; Mat 8:28-34). ). Jesus and his disciples did not torture or kill anyone in dealing with such evil forces. Nor did they accuse anyone of harming or killing other people. When asked who was to blame for a man being blind Jesus taught that neither the blind man nor his parents were responsible for his blindness (Jn 9:1-3). In healing people Jesus sought to bring harmony and joy to the community. Through his death and resurrection, Jesus conquered death (Rom 14:8; 1Thes 4:13-14). When sickness or death come into our community there must be no false allegations such as accusing a person of causing death by stealing the deceased’s heart. We repeat that such allegations are unchristian. As people of faith we should follow the example of Christ in promoting forgiveness and harmony in our communities. If someone dies, in the midst of our tears, we can be comforted by believing that they have returned to the One who gives life.
But now it seems that in some of our communities people are abandoning their Christian faith and believing the talk of diviners or “ol glasman.” We state clearly that this practice of calling on a diviner or “glasman” and accusing someone, puts trust in powers of evil, a trust that run contrary to our Christian faith, especially when the diviner urges the relatives or supporters of the deceased to acts of violence. We have seen the fruits of this and they are bad fruits indeed (Mat 12:33)! Seeing the fruits of such violence it appears to us that it is actually those who torture and kill innocent people who are the ones succumbing to the forces of evil.
If someone gets sick, don’t even talk about sanguma. The only power sanguma has comes from people talking about it and fearing it. Put your faith in God and support the sick person with your presence and with your prayer. If someone dies, you must not talk about sanguma or support anyone who starts with this sort of talk. Do not look for a diviner or glasman. Don’t try to find someone to blame. Ultimately, life and death are in the hands of God. Put the deceased person and their family in God’s hand and thank God for the life of the person who was part of your life but who has passed away to eternal life.
Parents, do not teach your children to believe in sanguma. Sicknesses have their cause and medical doctors can tell you the reason why someone is ill. Care for your bodies and bring sick people quickly to the hospital or health centre. Don’t wait until it gets so serious that medicine can no longer help. Doctors and health workers, it is better that you do not talk about sickness having “traditional” causes found in tensions in families and communities. It is true that worry and fear can cause people to get sick, but this is something to settle within the family, or through the village court -- not something to blame on sanguma or an evil spirit.
The problem comes when people’s faith weakens, they become fearful, and they forget about what it means to be Christian. We need good upright Christians in the community who can provide leadership in difficult times. Through this letter we want to support and strengthen your faith so that you can in turn help others to follow the right path, and in so doing find justice, peace and joy brought by the Holy Spirit (Rom 14:17). You must conquer evil with good (Rom 12:21).
We Bishops challenge our priests, religious brothers and sisters, catechists, and all church leaders and ministers, and we invite other churches too, to join with us in taking a clear, unambiguous, and strong stand against all talk about sanguma and all attempts to lay the blame on anyone, especially at the time of sickness and death.
In the coming months we hope to launch a program of renewal of our faith in the supreme Lordship of Christ. We are convinced that when people have a genuine faith in Jesus Christ, there will be no room for sanguma talk in their lives. In the meantime we urge everyone to read, reflect on, and pray over these texts, which will help those whose faith is wavering to rediscover the joy of putting their trust in Jesus Christ alone, and not in any other power.
Gen. 1:26 Man and woman made in the image of God
Eph. 1:15-23 Pauls’ prayer for the power of the Holy Spirit
Mat 17:14-21 Jesus gave a command and the boy was healed
Rom. 14:13-23 Do not make your brother or sister fall
Rom. 8:31-39 Nothing can separate us from the love of God
Col 2:6-19 Fullness of life in Christ
Archbishop Douglas Young (Mount Hagen)
Bishop Francesco Sarego (Goroka)
Bishop Anton Bal (Kundiawa)
Bishop Arnold Orowae (Wabag)
Bishop Donald Lippert (Mendi)
Mt. Hagen, 26 July 2013