In a young country celebrating 50 years of independence, the Pope was welcomed by President Paul Biya, as well as other civilian and religious leaders, including non Catholics, and by a small but loud and festive crowd.
In his address the Pope said he brought the hope embodied by a young African, Josephine Bakhita, who was born a slave and became a saint. “Here in Africa, as in so many parts of the world, countless men and women long to hear a word of hope and comfort,” the Pontiff said.
“Regional conflicts leave thousands homeless or destitute, orphaned or widowed. In a continent which, in times past, saw so many of its people cruelly uprooted and traded overseas to work as slaves, today human trafficking, especially of defenceless women and children, has become a new form of slavery. At a time of global 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. They cry out for reconciliation, justice and peace, and that is what the Church offers them.”
The Church is not seeking “new forms of economic or political oppression, but the glorious freedom of the children of God (cf Rom, 8:21). Not the imposition of cultural models that ignore the rights of the unborn, but the pure healing water of the Gospel of life. Not bitter interethnic or inter-religious rivalry, but the righteousness, peace and joy of God’s kingdom, so aptly described by Pope Paul VI as the civilization of love (cf Regina Coeli Message, Pentecost Sunday, 1970).
During his flight from Rome the Pope touched upon some of the issues central to his visit like the lack of equity in economic exchange, exploitation and the defence of life, issues which are part of the Instrumentum laboris, the working paper destined for the Second Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops of Africa, which he came to present to the continent.
In response to journalists the Holy Father mentioned how much the Catholic Church does for the fight against AIDS in Africa, a tragedy that in his view cannot be overcome by money or “distributing condoms. It only increases the problem.” Instead, what is necessary is morally correct human behaviour and great care for the sick, i.e. suffering with the suffering.
“It is particularly commendable,” he noted, “that Aids sufferers are able to receive treatment free of charge in this country,” whose government “speaks out in defence of the rights of the unborn.”
Indeed for the Pope a lack of ethics is responsible for the profound economic crisis that is disproportionately affecting the poor, in Africa and in the rest of the world. For him the current economic crisis is the result of an ethics gap.
The Holy Father announced that he would address this issue in his next encyclical. The original version was almost ready, but had to be put off, he said, because of the worldwide recession that forced him to rework it so as to offer humanity a message for our times.
Finally Benedict XVI addressed one last sensitive issue, praising Cameroon for welcoming “[t]housands of refugees from war-torn countries in the region [who] have received a welcome here. It is a land of life, with a Government that speaks out in defence of the rights of the unborn. It is a land of peace: by resolving through dialogue the dispute over the Bakassi peninsula, Cameroon and Nigeria have shown the world that patient diplomacy can indeed bear fruit.”