Pope brings message of hope to Africa

2011-11-16 09:00

Vatican City - Pope Benedict XVI brings a message of hope to Africa when he begins a three-day visit to Benin on Friday to meet Catholic leaders and pilgrims from across the continent.

The highlight of the pope's second trip to a region that has the world's fastest growing number of Catholics will be the formal signing on Saturday of an apostolic exhortation entitled "The Pledge for Africa".

The main message of the exhortation - "Africae Munus" in the Vatican's official language, Latin - will be peace, reconciliation and justice.

The document - a summary of the conclusions of the synod of African bishops in 2009 - is also expected to refer to the problems of unequal development, corruption, rural poverty and the rise of an alternative Christian movement.

The pope is set to sign the proclamation in West Africa's biggest cathedral in Ouidah, a coastal town that was once a hub for the slave trade and where the first missionaries arrived 150 years ago.

"Benedict XVI will bring a message of encouragement and hope, though very conscious of the problems that exist," Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said, outlining a packed agenda for the ageing pontiff.

The German pope will also meet traditional religious leaders, including Vodun - or Voodoo - chiefs, on Saturday in Benin's commercial capital Cotonou, about 40km from Ouidah.

Benin is a major centre of Vodun - about 17% of the population practice it - and the cathedral in Ouidah is next to a python temple.

"Africa make peace"

On Saturday the pope will meet leprosy sufferers and abandoned children, and on Sunday he will celebrate mass in an open-air stadium in Cotonou with some 200 African bishops from 35 countries.

Following his arrival on Friday and while the 84-year-old pope is resting from his flight, singers like Democratic Republic of Congo’s Papa Wemba will give a concert in the city.

The Congolese rumba star will be joined on stage by Angola's Bonga and Guinea's Fifito. The three are releasing an album to mark the visit entitled "Africa Tenda Amani!" - or "Africa Make Peace!" in Swahili.

Benedict's first visit to Africa in 2009 was overshadowed by a controversy over his statement that the distribution of condoms "aggravates" the Aids crisis and spoke of sexual abstinence as the only solution.

The pope visited Angola and Cameroon during that six-day tour.

Mario Giro, a leader of the Sant'Egidio community -- a Catholic group active in peace-building initiatives in Africa, said the pope discovered "a living faith" in the continent's rapidly-changing societies.

Benedict "wants to encourage the faith of Africans", he said.


The welcome from Benin's Catholics - who number about three million, or 34% of the population - is expected to be effusive and they will be joined by many thousands of pilgrims from neighbouring countries.

About 15% of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics live in Africa and, while the pope has tended to concentrate his message on one of spiritual revival in the secular West, he has kept tabs on Africa too.

He has issued multiple calls in recent months for increased relief to famine-stricken Somalia. He has also tracked the situation in Ivory Coast - where a contested presidential poll triggered a civil war this year.

A Beninese observer told AFP on condition of anonymity that local Catholic authorities are hoping the pope will "put the house in order."

Two bishops, including the former archbishop of Cotonou, Marcel Honorat Agboton, have been forced to resign recently over different scandals, ranging from sex to corruption and occult practices.

Agboton tried to commit suicide by poisoning himself and now lives in Europe.

There have also been several child abuse scandals - an affliction that has thrown the Catholic Church worldwide into a profound crisis.

Catholicism is particularly important in Benin as it was a Catholic elite trained by missionaries that helped ensure a democratic transition after the fall of the military dictatorship at the beginning of the 1990s.

Like in other parts of Africa however, the Catholic Church is increasingly facing competition from the growing influence of Islam and a multiplication of Pentecostal churches that often offer a simpler faith.

Traditional religions

"People are disappointed. They listen to the first person who comes," said a Vatican source, adding however that they often "return" to Catholicism.

But the source said Catholics should not become obsessed with institutions and should instead seek to promote an identity of "the family of God" beyond ethnic borders.

The African Church "should take into account the positive support of traditional religions while rejecting witchcraft", he said.

Benedict will be following in the footsteps of his predecessor John Paul II, who visited Benin twice - in 1982 and 1993.

The globe-trotting John Paul visited 41 countries in Africa.

The first pope to visit Africa was Paul VI, who went to the sanctuary of Namugongo in Uganda in 1969, where 26 Catholics were martyred at the end of the 19th century and were later canonised as Africa's first saints.

  • jfarway! - 2011-11-16 09:51

    How about a message to the African states that discrimination and hate crimes to someone based on sexuality is completely wrong! Furthermore the death penalty for gays is completely WRONG!!!!

      Fred - 2011-11-16 15:30

      Who this headline, the Vatican spin doctors? The geriatric virgin in a dress does not bring hope, he brings disease, hated and lies. Pope Benedict: 1. opposes women’s rights, gay equality, embryonic stem cell research, death with dignity and the use of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV; 2. played a key role in the cover-up of child sex abuse by Catholic clergy; 3. has rehabilitated the Holocaust-denying bishop Richard Williamson, and even though Pope Pius XII failed to speak out against the Holocaust he plans to make him a saint; 4. opposes universal equality and human rights. What a hope!

  • Delusion - 2011-11-16 09:53

    Very cute Mr Ratzinger. Religion is the desperate attempt of believers to make (their) god fit into reality. Religion / theology, (including the Roman Catholics) is the act of supporting and hosting a hierarchy of parasites “Religion supports nobody. It has to be supported. It produces no wheat, no corn; it ploughs no land; it fells no forests. It is a perpetual mendicant. It lives on the labors of others, and then has the arrogance to pretend that it supports the giver."-- Robert G. Ingersoll

  • Hat3d - 2011-11-16 09:56

    I look at Africa and can't help but question religion and the existence of GOD.

      Delusion - 2011-11-16 10:31

      "I think of a little child in east Africa with a worm burrowing through his eyeball. The worm cannot live in any other way, except by burrowing through eyeballs. I find that hard to reconcile with the notion of a divine and benevolent creator." -- David Attenborough

      Delusion - 2011-11-16 11:26

      Also Hat3d, I think the same could be said about Europe during the 2 world wars...

  • Sledge - 2011-11-16 10:10

    No HOPE in the World will help AFRICA. Dark rule Continent, that's why.

      Delusion - 2011-11-16 10:40

      So white rulers like Stalin, Hitler, The Bosnian butchers, etc. etc. were better rulers??

  • Isabel - 2011-11-16 11:23

    Religion is a man made fiction. With even a minimum of analysis its basic structures fall apart, but it has so enslaved the world that few bother to analyse it. As a former christian myself who has taken the trouble to actually THINK and reject it, I feel freer and happier than I ever have in my life. Religion is the most effective con job ever done on humanity. It's no accident tat the higher up the IQ ladder you go, the fewer religious people you find.

  • Lauren - 2011-11-16 12:40

    And as with all the predecessors of Pope Benedict, it made no difference to the outcome of Africa in its current state. Change can be promoted from an outside source, but becoming the change is still left to the people who live in Africa. Furthermore, the little controversial gem about condoms... Pope Benedict you're still promoting abstinence. Doesn't the coin drop when sexual abuse on little boys and abstinence to sex is used in the same sentence????? Furthermore, use some of your money stowed away in the mighty Vatican city to promote education for farming and other means of bettering one's life, so as to become a little more self sufficient.

      Delusion - 2011-11-16 15:26

      Abstinence makes the priests grow fondler. About gays and slavery: God is not OK with one of these...

  • Fred - 2011-11-16 15:32

    There are some very good and truthful comments about the Catholic Church, the Vatican and the Nazi Pope here. The article and its headline is just pure spin doctor BS.

  • goyougoodthing - 2011-11-16 16:23

    I would like to call upon all Catholics then to divert the money they give to the Church and give it to the starving kids in Northern Africa... oh no wait, that's probably not what he meant by helping

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