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from issue no. 03 - 2009

The pastoral visit of Benedict XVI to Cameroon and Angola

Africa loves the Pope

The Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for Divine Worship recounts the days spent by the Pope in Africa, the continent that shows the greatest increase in Catholics in the world

by Cardinal Francis Arinze

Pope Benedict XVI with Cardinal Francis Arinze <BR>[© Osservatore Romano]

Pope Benedict XVI with Cardinal Francis Arinze
[© Osservatore Romano]

Tuesday, 17 March
I am very happy that Benedict XVI chose to visit Africa. And I’m also glad that he asked me to be part of his entourage along with two other cardinals – the Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone, and the Prefect of Propaganda Fide Ivan Dias – three archbishops, some priests and some lay people, including the Director of L’Osservatore Romano Giovanni Maria Vian. During the Pope’s flight, as is customary, he granted an interview to journalists. A phrase of his – mentioning the “condom” – was to be taken as a pretext for staging a media circus in which various European governments joined. An unworthy spectacle. But the Pope’s trip was something else. And one saw it immediately.
Landing in Yaoundé. The welcome by the African people was splendid. The whole route taken by the “pope mobile” and the entourage was lined by a joyful and visibly moved crowd. I was in the third car behind the papal vehicle. And I could see the faces of the many faithful changing at the sight of Peter’s Successor, smiling, jumping for joy. Some people knelt, some held out their children, some their rosary beads. All invoked the Pope’s blessing. It was a moving spectacle that was to be repeated throughout the trip. One saw that the people were happy, wanted to see Peter, and were willing to make sacrifices to do so under the scorching sun, as in the rain.

Wednesday, 18 March
In the morning, the Pope’s meeting with local bishops took place in a simple parish, that of Christ the King, and not in Yaoundé Cathedral. It was a good thing. I imagine that the parish priest will remember the event for the rest of his life. In the evening Vespers were recited in the Basilica dedicated to Mary Queen of Apostles. In his speeches, the Pope exhorted us – us bishops, priests, male and female religious – to be faithful to our vocation. Africa, thank God, is blessed with a great many vocations. All the more reason why wholesome discernment is needed so that only those who want to serve the Lord and His Church are ordained priest, and not those who have other purposes. Benedict XVI reminded us of that too. And he did well.

Benedict XVI meeting the Islamic community, Yaoundé, 19 March [© Associated Press/LaPresse]

Benedict XVI meeting the Islamic community, Yaoundé, 19 March [© Associated Press/LaPresse]

Thursday, 19 March
On this day the Church celebrates Saint Joseph, patron of the universal Church. The whole day – one could say – was also a tribute to the name-day of the Holy Father. In the early morning there was a meeting, in the nunciature, with the Muslim community. In Cameroon relations between Christians and Muslims are generally good. And it shows. In other African countries – though not everywhere – that is so. In my Nigeria there are problems, but there are also stories of exemplary co-existence. In this regard, I always like to recall that two Nigerian bishops from Muslim families. Muslims and Christians, following their respective faiths righteously, can and must co-exist peacefully.
Later Mass was said in the stadium of the capital and the Pope at the end officially handed over the Instrumentum laboris of the coming African Synod to the presidents of the Episcopal Conferences of the continent. This was something exceptional. Usually this type of document is submitted by the Secretary General of the Synod in the Vatican press-room. Instead, the Pope wanted to give it international publicity. That was positive and encouraging. Not only that: in the evening the Pope met the twelve cardinals and bishops on the Special Council of the Synod – of which I am a member myself. The discussion lasted more than an hour and was in no way formal. It also continued at the subsequent dinner, where people spoke who hadn’t been able to do so before. It was truly a working dinner. Apostolic work. The Instrumentum laboris has strong words to say about the multinationals that exploit our continent. The bishops who drew it up wanted it so: they wanted to call things by their proper names, as did Jesus, who was merciful but called the Pharisees “whited sepulchers”...
Prior to the time devoted to the Synod to be held in Rome in October, the Pope went in the afternoon to visit the Cardinal Léger Center, founded by the Canadian cardinal who resigned from his position as Archbishop of Montreal and left all his comforts and came here to spend all his energies and financial resources on benefiting the lepers. This Center is a shining example and a blessed work of charity. During the meeting, the Pope was moved. The sick, even in their suffering, were glad to see and touch the Successor of Peter. Personally I am also struck by the speech given by the Minister, truly worthy of a Doctor in the Church’s social doctrine. I congratulate her.

A picture of the Mass celebrated by Benedict XVI in the stadium of Yaoundé (Cameroon) on 19 March <BR>[© Osservatore Romano]

A picture of the Mass celebrated by Benedict XVI in the stadium of Yaoundé (Cameroon) on 19 March
[© Osservatore Romano]

Friday, 20 March
In the morning we went with the Pope from Yaoundé to Luanda. We in the entourage were lucky. There are some African bishops who had to make long journeys by air to meet the Pope. There are no direct flights between Cameroon and Angola. Africa is also this, unfortunately. The mood of the people was the same and different. Angola shows the signs of the civil war that has tormented it for twenty-five years. There were many young people, because the long conflict has decimated the previous generations. But the enthusiasm was the same as in Cameroon. Here, too, there were people everywhere: smiling, dancing, praying, kneeling at the passage of the Pope. And those not on the roads looked at us out of windows. The heat at times felt suffocating. But the people did not seem to suffer.
In the afternoon there was an encounter with the political authorities and the diplomatic corps and in the evening that with the local bishops. Also in Cameroon there had been a meeting with the president of that country, but it had been a more informal affair, with no public speeches. Here, however, the Pope spoke, and did so with not just Angola in mind but the whole of Africa. The Pope did not mince his words. He exhorted Africans to fight against corruption and for the common good, with a more equal distribution of the wealth which does exist (and how!). He spoke of his hope for an end of the tribalism that has caused so much bloodshed. The Pope spoke with respect of Africa and hence also indicated the positive aspects of the continent. Such as the peace process in South Africa that can be a good example to others, as in the Great Lakes region. I hope that African leaders and their peoples heeded the Pope’s words and will derive benefit from them!

Saturday, 21 March
In the morning Mass was celebrated in the church dedicated to St Paul. The Pope reminded the faithful that the phenomenon of witch-hunting, unfortunately still common in Africa, is contrary to the Gospel. In the afternoon there was the meeting with young people overshadowed by the death of two girls. The tragedy happened long before the arrival of the Pope, in the stadium, but no one told us of the occurrence. And so the ceremony took place in a festive atmosphere (the Pope was visibly moved when he saw a young man in a wheelchair singing during the meeting). Only later was the press informed and so the Pope was made aware of the sad news. The day after the Secretary of State and his deputy went to pay their respects to the victims, and spiritually comfort relatives. I think that, rightly, the Church will be very close to them, also in a material way. Perhaps the delay in opening the gates to the stadium by the authorities also contributed to the tragedy, a delay explicable, perhaps, by considerations of security. Let us hope that things of the kind don’t happen again.

A picture of the Mass on the esplanade of Cimangola, Luanda, 22 March [© Associated Press/LaPresse]

A picture of the Mass on the esplanade of Cimangola, Luanda, 22 March [© Associated Press/LaPresse]

Sunday, 22 March
In the morning the Pope celebrated Mass on the esplanade of Cimangola together with the bishops of the IMBISA (Interregional Meeting of Bishops of Southern Africa). There was a huge crowd. A million faithful, or perhaps more. The sun was strong but the people were there. Extraordinary. The liturgy was exemplary, calm and shared in. At the Offertory gifts were brought to the altar with delicately poised movements. It was not a dance, an exhibition, but an act of true prayer. The Pope saw and appreciated. It was clear that those who took part in the liturgy with graceful movements did not do so to celebrate themselves but to celebrate the mysteries of Jesus Christ.
In the evening in the parish of Saint Anthony, the Pope met women and the Catholic movements for the advancement of women. An unusual encounter. I must say that I would give a prize to whoever had the idea of organizing a meeting of the kind. It was an idea of genius. In his speech the Pope emphasized the true spirit of women and encouraged its true liberation, which is not that proposed in certain Western circles.

Monday, 23 March
Back to Rome. During the flight, the Pope greeted the journalists and made a wonderful summary of his trip. Unfortunately – they tell me – the vast majority of the Western media reported a different trip from the one we experienced. With the complicity of some European politicians and spokesmen – who instead of truly helping Africa and seriously examining their conscience about what they have done and are doing in this regard – what was reported almost exclusively was the problem of the condom . Something disgusting. Little respectful of the Pope and little respectful of Africa which deserves quite different treatment. But it is better not to dwell on these issues, though they are serious. The important fact is that Africa has had the chance to see the Successor of Peter and to hear his voice. And that the Pope in turn has been solaced by a young Church, the African Church, which, despite its problems, loves the Lord Jesus and is truly rich in faith, hope and charity.

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