Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
March 23, 2009
Africa needs Church's message, says Benedict
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE
YAOUNDE, CAMEROON - Arriving in Africa, Pope Benedict said the continent, which suffers disproportionately from poverty, conflict and disease, sorely needs the Church's message of hope and reconciliation.
At a welcoming ceremony March 17 in Yaounde, the pope said he was visiting Africa to respond to the many men and woman who "long to hear a word of hope and comfort."
In Africans' fight against injustice, he said, the Church is their natural ally.
"In the face of suffering or violence, poverty or hunger, corruption or abuse of power, a Christian can never remain silent," the pope said.
The Gospel's saving message needs to be "proclaimed loud and clear" in Africa, he said.
The encounter with Christianity, he said, can transform situations of injustice.
He cited the regional conflicts in Africa that have left thousands homeless, destitute and orphaned, as well as human trafficking that has become a new form of slavery, especially for women and children.
"At a time of global crisis in food shortages, financial turmoil and disturbing patterns of climate change, Africa suffers disproportionately.
"More and more of her people are falling prey to hunger, poverty and disease. They cry out for reconciliation, justice and peace, and that is what the Church offers them," he said.
"Not forms of economic or political oppression, but the glorious freedom of the children of God. Not the imposition of cultural models that ignore the rights of the unborn, but the pure healing water of the Gospel of life."
The pope noted that Cameroon has accepted refugees from neighbouring countries and tried to settle border disputes with patient diplomacy.
Cameroon is also a "land of life, with a government that speaks out in defence of the rights of the unborn," he said.
In his remarks on the unborn, the pope may have been referring to a recent exchange between the Cameroonian government and a UN committee that monitors compliance with a convention on eliminating forms of discrimination against women.
In response to a request to liberalize its abortion law, the government responded that abortion was murder and should not be elevated to a right.
It was Pope Benedict's first papal visit to Africa. As a cardinal, he visited the continent only once.
Aboard the plane taking him to Africa, the pope said he considered corruption one of the continent's biggest problems. According to the U.S. Department of State, Cameroon's corruption level is among the highest in the world.
President Paul Biya and his Cameroon People's Democratic Movement have retained power for 27 years, giving the country political stability but at a price.
Critics say national elections have been unfair, and human rights organizations have faulted the government for restricting freedoms of speech, press, assembly and association.
The pope rode in his glass-walled popemobile into Yaounde, Cameroon's capital, past groups of well-wishers who sat in plastic chairs in front of their cinderblock homes and waved palm fronds.
As the pope drew closer to the city centre, the enthusiastic crowd was wall-to-wall.
Yaounde was given a partial facelift for the pope's arrival. The clean-up projects included the mass demolition of illegal shops around the city's cathedral. That prompted angry protests.
Cameroon represents an evangelization success story on a continent that has experienced an explosion of Church growth over the last century.
Over the last 40 years, the number of Catholics in Africa has increased from 11 per cent to 17 per cent of the total population; in Cameroon, Catholics today constitute 27 per cent of the population, up from 23 per cent 40 years ago.