Jack O'Sullivan looks back at the controversial faith healing of Zambian, Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo, removed to Rome in 1982, who has set out his defence in a new book.
I ONCE had the most disturbing experience of watching four grown men kick and beat a woman within an .inch of her life. She must have been at least 70 years old and totally blind.
I have never seen anyone as terrified as those men. Normally kindly, gentle, humorous individuals, with whom 1 had lived for some time, they were reduced to jibbering wrecks.
The incident occurred in a small village in Zimbabwe last year. The old woman had entered an area immediately surrounding the house and rapidly circled it a couple of times.
Everybody in the house and every other person I met in the village next day was certain that she was bewitching all those within the compound. They reacted like rats cornered. They sensed evil.
The Catholic Church has never had much regard for such traditional African belief in spirit possession. That which Africans ascribed to evil spirits the Church has called psychosomatic illness and imagination born of ignorance.
At least this was the case until eleven years ago when Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo of Lusaka began to hold "healing" sessions which amounted to mass exorcisms. The Zambian Archbishop takes the devil very seriously indeed.
This month the controversial Archbishop has published a collection of his writings, which attempt to explain his mysterious gift — his "ministry of deliverance". The World In Between is a reply to his many critics and an explanation of the scandals which surrounded his removal in 1982 to Rome from the Archbishopric of Lusaka.
The book is about a spirit world which plays a key role in African fife. An African will quite regularly communicate with the spirit of his dead relatives, who are his "guardians", advising him as to where he may be going wrong in his life. In a society where the wisdom of the old is respected, the dead are the ultimate arbiters of morality.
And then there are also the evil spirits which the four men. I described, were so frightened of. Archbishop Milingo explains how people may become possessed for Faustian reasons, accepting possession for some benefit or success.
Alternatively, a person may become bewitched involuntarily. He describes in graphic detail the terrible physical effects of evil spirits on the victim.
"I have talked with the witches, and I have dealt with the dead. I have gone beyond theory", is Archbishop Milingo's retort to those who doubt.
He claims that all these things which seem obvious to traditional African belief can be brought within the context of Christianity and not just dismissed as mumbo-jumbo. He calls on theologians to "study the power of Jesus in order to understand the irrationality of the spirit world."
At his "healing" sessions which began in1973, Archbishop Milingo discovered that he was able to cast out evil spirits. Using the "ministry of deliverance" he found that he could "heal" people's troubled souls, anguished minds and sick bodies.
People, particularly Zambia's poor, flocked to the Archbishop, thousands attending his "healing" ceremonies. He was apparently resolving the "religious schizophrenia" of the African Christian.
On Sundays a Catholic will go to Mass. The rest of the week, he returns to the guidance of the spirits mediums and his ancestral spirits, "Healing" sessions no longer made this necessary.
But to others, Milingo appeared to be a "pagan" influence, giving credence to the "superstitions" which the Church has attempted to suppress in its mission in Africa.
A number of expatriate missionaries and many of Zambia's black elite, schooled in Catholic missions and taught to ridicule belief in ancestral and evil spirits, were very concerned with Archbishop Milingo's exorcisms.
Scandal also surrounded Milingo. He was variously accused of misappropriating Church funds, making a nun pregnant and inciting racial tension between white and black priests.
In 1982, he was summoned to Rome for investigation by the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith.
The Zambian Archbishop remained incommunicado in Rome for 18 months and Finally resigned as Archbishop of Lusaka in August 1983. According to Milingo. Pope John Paulii wrote to him saying that the clergy refused to have him back to run the archdiocese.
The picture of Archbishop Milingo which is created in the World In Between as he struggled through a very difficult time is of a deeply holy man.
Scandal grew aroend him not because of any moral corruption on his part, but rather because of his inability to combine his "healing" activities with an efficient administration of the archdiocese of Lusaka.
The Catholic writer, Mona Macmillan, Milingo's chief advocate throughout, provides a clear, if paternalistic commentary on the Archbishop's theology and the row surrounding him. Archbishop Milingo has obviously always needed a good manager.
Accusations of misappropriation of CAFOD funds have been refuted by CAFOD director, Julian Filochowski. Equally it would appear that the well-publicised rift between white and black priests was the result of a malicious conspiracy. The crucial letters in this affair have since been exposed as forgeries. Finally there is the incident of the nun, allegedly made pregnant by Archbishop Milingo. The allegation was completely untrue, but this was not proven until much harm had been done. Archbishop Milingo had by then been set on an irrevocable collision course with the Papal pro-nuncio.
The Archbishop currently holds the post of Special Delegate to the Pontifical Commission for Migration and Tourism. He lives in Rome and has effectively been "kicked upstairs".
But the Milingo affair goes much deeper than any of these incidents. It concerns the dissatisfaction of many African Christians with the way Christianity was transported from Europe to Africa, often with little or no regard for beliefs or culture.
Catholics such as Archbishop Milingo — "inculturationists" — want Christianity to be expressed in African idiom and symbols.
"We have been surprised that (white missionaries) have come to teach Africans accepted gestures, movements and drums. What they approve Africans must approve", complains Milingo in his book.
The Church is quite wrong to have adopted an aggressive attitude to African traditonal beliefs. Once people recognise that Jesus is a much more effective protector to them than the spirits of their dead ancestors, they will "turn to the great, true and living ancestor, Jesus Christ", argues Archbishop Milingo.
"Make an African a Christian with his beliefs in ancestral spirits and, just as Paul showed the Jews the superiority of Jesus over Moses, Melchisedek and the Jewish sacrifice of the blood of bulls and goats, so should the Africans be reasoned with too, because the respect they have for their ancestors is a noble quality", urges the Archbishop.
Clearly Archbishop Milingo challenged Church orthodoxy, which has been dismissive of traditional beliefs to the extent of early missionaries not crediting Africans with having any religion. His treatment was humiliating for both him and other Africans. The need for Christianity to adapt has not been resolved by Milingo's removal.
It is however possible that history will judge this dispute between Rome and the Inculturationists as quite insignificant.
The real question may prove to be what sort of "healing" people need for suffering. Today in the Third World, two views are taking hold. Liberationist theology looks to structural causes of suffering. In contrast, people such as Archbishop Milingo mystify suffering, blaming it on evil spirits.
The contrast is all the more poignant as Africa experiences one of its worst ever famines. Malnutrition is the continents greatest killer. Is the mother of a dying child to understand its death as the work of the devil or in terms of the deep structural injustices of the world we live in?
To see starvation only through the spirit idiom is inadequate and fails to get to the root cause. The real need is to demystify suffering. Thus, what is needed is a new theology marrying traditional African beliefs with the clear analysis now being offered by the liberationist theologians.
That way, the Archbishop Milingos of the future could offer a much more thoroughgoing "healing" to the poor of Zambia and Africa.
The World in Between by Emmanuel Milingo, former Archbishop of Lusaka is published by Hurst & CO (17.95).