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Pope Benedict XVI Calls For 'Reconciliation' in Africa
BY FRANCIS X. ROCCA ©2011 Religion News Service
ope Benedict XVI ended his second papal trip to Africa on November 20 with a call for "reconciliation, justice, and peace" in a troubled continent that he nonetheless called a "land of hope."
The pope's three-day visit to the West African country of Benin culminated in an open-air Mass in the capital city of Cotonou, attended by an estimated 80,000 faithful, including Catholics from Nigeria and other neighboring countries.
Bearing up under temperatures in the mid to high 80s, the 84-year-old pope spoke in French, English, Portuguese, and the local indigenous language of Fon, calling attention to the "poor, the weak, the outcast" and offering a special greeting to victims of HIV/AIDS.
In his homily, Benedict made what many observers took as an allusion to corruption among African leaders, drawing a contrast between the worldly royal attributes of "success, power, money, and ability" and the "glory of Christ," who "makes Himself the Servant of the little ones."
Following the Mass, Benedict presented Catholic bishops from across Africa with an authoritative papal document entitled Africae Munus (The Commitment of Africa), based on a three-week synod of African bishops held at the Vatican in October 2009.
The 130-page document calls on government authorities, traditional chiefs, and "ordinary citizens" to eliminate the causes of violent conflict, and to care for the "poor, the hungry, the sick, the imprisoned, the migrant, the refugee, and the displaced."
A brief passage on AIDS acknowledges the need for a "medical and pharmaceutical response," but argues that "above all, (AIDS) is an ethical problem" calling for "sexual abstinence, rejection of sexual promiscuity, [and] fidelity within marriage."
During his first visit to Africa in 2009, Benedict provoked an international furor when he said that condoms "increase the problem" of AIDS; he did not address that topic on his return visit.
The new papal document also stresses the importance of dialogue with Islam and practitioners of indigenous African religions.