YAOUNDE, Cameroon (CNS): Arriving in Africa, Pope Benedict XVI said the Church’s message of hope and reconciliation was sorely needed by a continent suffering disproportionately from poverty, conflict and disease.
At a welcoming ceremony on March 17 in Yaounde, the Pope said he was making his first visit to Africa to respond to the many men and women who “long to hear a word of hope and comfort”.
In Africans’ fight against injustice, he said, the Church was 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 81-year-old pontiff stood on a platform at Yaounde’s airport next to Cameroonian President Paul Biya, who welcomed the Pope on a hot, humid afternoon.
Groups of schoolchildren sang and cheered, waving paper flags with the Vatican’s colours.
The Pope said he came to Africa as a pastor, not a politician, to a continent where the saving message of the Gospel needed to be “proclaimed loud and clear”.
The encounter with Christianity, he said, can transform situations of hardship or 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,” he said.
“They cry out for reconciliation, justice and peace, and that is what the Church offers them.
“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.”