Benedict in Africa for first time as pope

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.

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