Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
March 16, 2009
Papal visit will shift Church's attention to Africa
BY JOHN THAVIS
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE
VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict opens a new chapter in his papal travels when he visits Cameroon and Angola this week, a trip designed to highlight the Church’s message of hope on a continent beset by problems.
The March 17-23 visit will mark the first trip to Africa for a pope who has sometimes been described as Eurocentric, and it launches a series of important Church events in 2009 focusing on the African continent.
The trip will bring Pope Benedict closer to populations that are struggling daily against poverty, disease, corruption and armed conflict.
The trip will unfold in two parts. In Cameroon, the pope will meet with bishops from the entire continent and hand-deliver the working document for the Synod of Bishops for Africa, which will take place in Rome in October.
The synod’s theme is justice, reconciliation and peace. It offers the pope a seemingly endless choice of topics.
Certainly, during his four days in Cameroon, he will touch on the ethnic and political tensions that have afflicted areas like Darfur in Sudan, Somalia and the Great Lakes region.
He is also likely to address the responsibilities of governments to promote dialogue, reduce corruption and respond to the human needs of their populations.
But rather than read a laundry list of challenges, the pope is more likely to zero in on the Church’s specific mission to be a community that heals, reconciles, forgives and encourages.
The point is to move evangelization past the stage of bringing people into the Church, and toward the goal of witnessing the Gospel in personal lives and the life of society.
CARDINAL LEGER CENTRE
One small but significant event in Cameroon will be the pope’s visit to the Cardinal Paul Emile Leger Centre, also known as the National Centre for the Rehabilitation of the Handicapped.
Even more than the synod document’s thousands of words on pastoral strategy, this is where the pope sees the Church eloquently expressing the faith and affecting lives, through charity in action.
In Cameroon, the pope will also meet with representatives of the country’s Muslim community. At this encounter and in meetings with the African bishops, the pope is expected to emphasize the need for interfaith collaboration in tackling the problems of the continent.
In Nigeria, which borders Cameroon, attacks between groups of Christians and Muslims have left hundreds dead in recent months, even though the violence has been primarily political and not religious.
The second part of the pope’s trip takes him to the Angolan capital of Luanda for a series of encounters with political and government officials, church leaders and groups of the faithful.
Here the emphasis is on the 500th anniversary of Christian evangelization. The faith arrived in the country with Portuguese missionaries in the late 15th century.
DISASTROUS CIVIL WAR
Angola is still recovering from a disastrous 27-year-long civil war that ended in 2002. Many Angolans believe the pope’s visit could bring a spark of hope and encouragement to the country as it continues to reconcile and rebuild.
One key event will be the pope’s Mass with young people in a soccer stadium in Luanda. Trip planners realize that meetings with groups of bishops will largely consume the papal program in Africa. They want to make sure the pope also has an opportunity to build bridges to younger generations.
On his last full day in Angola, the pope will meet with Catholic movements that promote women’s welfare.
The encounter offers the pope a chance to make clear Church teaching on gender equality and to underline the Church’s concern about the many forms of continuing discrimination and violence against women in Africa.
Health care is a major concern in Angola and throughout Africa, and the AIDS pandemic in particular has devastated the continent.
The disease now kills about 1.5 million people in sub-Saharan Africa each year, and has left more than 11 million children orphaned.
When it comes to the Church and AIDS, the media often focus on the Church’s distrust of condoms as the answer to AIDS prevention.
Pope Benedict has never mentioned the condom issue explicitly.
But he spelled out his thoughts on AIDS in a talk to African bishops in 2005. At that time, he said the “only failsafe way” to prevent the spread of AIDS is found in the Church’s traditional teaching on sexual responsibility.
The German pope has made 10 trips so far, six of them to Europe (seven if one counts Turkey as part of Europe). This year his attention has turned to Africa.
Under Pope John Paul II, the Church in Africa grew by 160 per cent and the number of priestly vocations tripled.
Pope Benedict has spoken less of numbers and more about proper formation and a deepening of the faith — in a sense, quality control. That’s likely to be his focus in Cameroon and Angola, too.