Peace: God's gift and human responsibility - Voodoo perspective
Voodoo perspective of "Peace"
PEACE: God’s gift and human responsibility
by Chief Amadou Gasseto
Chief Priest of Avelekete Voodoo religion
An Address to the participants at Assisi Day of Prayer for Peace
convoked by Pope John Paul II on 24 January 2002
convoked by Pope John Paul II on 24 January 2002
The initiative of Pope John Paul II in favour of peace has given me much joy and hope for our world often torn apart by violence and wars. The invitation to take part in the Prayer for Peace in Assisi is a great honour for me and it is an honour for all the followers of Avelekete Voodoo whose high priest I am. In accepting the invitation to take part in this prayer, I also accept the commitment to promote a spirit of peace and peaceful behaviour capable of having a favourable impact on the society of Benin.
But I recognize in the first place that peace is a gift of God to us. However, this gift is left to the responsibility of man, called by the Creator to contribute to the building up of peace in this world. This is a universal responsibility which concerns all creation.
As a leader of the traditional Voodoo religion, I believe that peace is not possible as long as there are rifts, divisions and antagonisms between people. We must begin by achieving mastery over ourselves, so as not to speak words which lead to feelings of opposition, exclusion or violence. We must be responsible for the spirit which our words produce. This should be a spirit which gives rise to harmony, friendliness and fraternity. Peace will then find a favourable ground in which to grow among people.
I am convinced of one thing: peace in the world depends on peace among people. Man's responsibility in the world has its influence not only on society but also on the whole of creation. When there is no peace among people, neither is there peace between the rest of creation and man. But when people work for peace in a nation, its land becomes generous and the herds multiply for man's greater good. This is a key law of nature which comes from the Creator, who has linked creation's destiny to man's responsibility. This is why it is good to invite people every year to a change of heart by renouncing hatred, violence and injustice. Leaders of world religions should neither forget nor neglect this practice. It is a matter of making amends for the harm done to creation by man, of asking forgiveness of the protecting spirits of regions affected by the violence and the evil committed by man, and of asking forgiveness, carrying out sacrifices of reparation and purification, and thus restoring peace. I affirm that this purification of nature is essential in order to restore peace among people and with the rest of creation. In ancient times, in the time of the kings, Benin scrupulously respected this practice and the country enjoyed peace and the benefits of nature. The leaders of the present time should be concerned about this. And we shall remind them of this when we return from Assisi, as a way of producingin Benin what we will have experienced together at world level in Italy.
I also wish to emphasize something essential: respect for the spirits of the dead. We should remember that the ancestors who have gone before us in the world lived in a relationship of respect towards God and nature so as to leave us a world which is still habitable and beneficial for man. The world as they organized it in their time was not perfect in every respect, but it had the advantage of maintaining a great harmony between the people and nature. Prohibitions preserved springs, forests and areas where fauna and flora renew themselves. Prohibitions determined human relations within family and society. The preservation of the ecosystem and of a great equilibrium within society made an effective contribution to maintaining this harmony between nature and people. We cannot speak of peace today without respect for this world left to us by our ancestors, while ever seeking to improve it for the benefit of the people of our time.
Among the social practices left to us by our ancestors on the African soil of Benin is the art of discussion to resolve interpersonal and social conflicts. There we learn the art of knowing how to respect one's adversary, of tolerating differences and understanding others' convictions. This practice should inspire those responsible for peace in the world, so that they know how to lead their opponents to dialogue, which alone can restore peace in hearts and in nations. Nothing is as valuable as dialogue which enables us to leave each other in mutual understanding. We then move from hatred to mutual esteem. The important role of discussion should be safeguarded in international bodies which make decisions about peace between nations, and within nations when decisions have to be made between individuals. Discussion should be a help to us today in managing the world of our time with all its difficulties, which are always matters for man's responsibility.
In what has just been presented I have stated my religious convictions regarding my commitment to the promotion of peace in my country and in the world. And I would not be able to finish here without affirming with insistence that justice and fraternal love are the two indispensable pillars of true peace among people. This land of Italy where I am present for the spiritual meeting in Assisi is a land of great religious traditions. We religious leaders should insist in our own countries on respect for other nations and on solidarity between peoples. The problem of the development of poor countries, including my own, is without doubt the greatest threat to peace in the world. Solidarity between peoples should lead to a more equitable sharing of the world's riches. Developed countries should support less advanced countries in their striving for development. International trade should not favour only those who have a strong economy but should respect the actual work and production of each people. The 21st century which we have entered should be a century for building a more just and fraternal society. The values which we should promote as religious leaders are those of love and social interaction in a world where in reality we are all brothers and sisters. It is by working in this way that we will build up peace in our world.
May God bless the Assisi meeting and grant peace to our world.
TRIP DOWN MEMORY LANE: OUIDAH, BENIN - THE BIRTHPLACE OF VOODOO AND THEIR ANNUAL VOODOO FESTIVAL