YAOUNDE, (Reuters) – Pope Benedict arrived in Africa yesterday, where he said the continent’s people were suffering disproportionately due to the global challenges of food shortages, financial crises and climate change.
After arriving in Cameroon on his first visit to Africa since becoming pope, the pontiff called on Christians to tackle violence, poverty, corruption and abuse of power, issues that have continually stifled the continent’s progress.
The Pope was greeted by Cameroon’s President Paul Biya, bishops from across Africa and a mix of local religious and political leaders before setting off in his popemobile, flanked by motorcycles, along streets lined with thousands of flag-waving supporters.
With the number of practising Catholics dwindling in the developed world, Africa is seen as vital to the Church’s future. But the relationship is not without controversy, mainly over the use of condoms in preventing AIDS, a disease decimating Africa.
“At a time of global food shortages, financial turmoil, and disturbing patterns of climate change Africa suffers disproportionately,” he told crowds on his arrival.
“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 added.
Many in Cameroon have called on the Pope to start his mission for peace and reconciliation by sending a strong message to his host, Biya, who has ruled for over 26 years.
Biya’s time in power has been marked by accusations of high-level corruption and human rights abuses. The security forces this week destroyed street-side stalls that provided an income for thousands, in a bid to clean up the city.
“I am glad that he is coming but he should be here for religion and not other things,” said 29-year-old Calvine Noumbisi, who squatted at the side of the road selling rosaries, prayer books and incense rocks for a nearby church.
“If he prays, blesses the country and tells the politicians to confess, it will help us,” she added.
While in Cameroon, Benedict will visit charities, meet Muslim leaders and attend a gathering of bishops trying to chart the Church’s role in improving Africans’ lives. Later in the week, he will go to Angola.
Although Cameroon and Angola are both resource-rich nations, where oil has flowed for many years and millions of dollars’ worth of minerals have been dug from the ground, most of their inhabitants still live in grinding poverty.