Benedict XVI will arrive in Cameroon tomorrow. He will then travel to Angola where he will stay till 23 March. The contingent reason for the visit is to deliver the ‘Instrumentum Laboris’ of the next Synod of African Bishops, scheduled for 4-25 October this year in the Vatican, titled The Church in Africa, at the Service of Reconciliation, Justice and Peace.
Cameroon and Angola
Cameroon was chosen for historical reasons. It is here during the Jubilee Year that John Paul II released his Post-Synodal Letter after the African Synod. The various bodies of the continent’s bishops’ conferences are also headquartered in this country. Last but not least Cameroon is a microcosm of Africa (many cultures, more than 200 ethnic groups, social and economic problems) but unlike most other African countries, its people are able to live in peace with one another.
Angola is the other country on the papal schedule. I think it was chosen because the next Synod’s focus will be on reconciliation, justice and peace, something which Angola is finally embracing after decades of war.
These two countries can thus be examples for others to follow.
In addition to these official duties during which the Pontiff will meet bishops, priests, men and women religious, and others, he will also take some time for himself, visiting a home for people with disabilities. In so doing he will confirm what people think of him, namely that he is not here to sell anything or for our natural resources, but is coming for us, to share our pain, and take care of those among us who need it the most.
Pope, the West and China
The papal visit is the opposite of what others do, whether from the West or China, who come to meet “those who count”, for business reasons or just because they are interested in the continent's natural resources. As soon as they get what they came for, they leave Africa to itself. None of them comes to meet Africans and establish a stable relationship with these peoples, let alone the Church.
So far Cameroonians have been disappointed by Westerners and their colonial past. Now they are disappointed by the Chinese.
Hu Jintao came last year to launch a new partnership with Cameroon, to establish a relationship among fellow developing countries.
Ostensibly China came to build health facilities. But it also came here and elsewhere to dump products “Made in China” - which is killing off local producers - offering its help for raw materials.
Some of our intellectuals are warning their fellow citizens that what China is getting for its assistance is access and a monopoly over the country’s natural resources, as well as control over its economy.
The Church’s role in this continent is entirely different. In yesterday’s Angelus when the Pope announced his pilgrimage to Africa, he said that the “Church does not pursue economic, social, and political goals; the Church proclaims Christ, certain that the Gospel can touch the hearts of all and transform them, thus renewing persons and societies from within."
Personally I hope the papal visit will lead our communities to rediscover their faith not only as a form of devotion and as prayer but also as culture, as a capacity to be active in society and change it.
Africa is a very religious continent but just accepting Africans praying in church is a danger. What is necessary is for faith to become mature and creative in society. We must seize on the Church’s social doctrine and implement it.