Catholic World News

Pope's visit will set pastoral priorities for Africa

November 17, 2011

Preparations are nearly complete for a weekend visit by Pope Benedict XVI to Benin, where he will release the apostolic exhortation concluding the work of the 2nd African Synod.

The new papal document, Africae Munus, will offer pastoral guidelines for the Church in Africa, based on the conclusions of the Synod of Bishops in October 2009. The document is expected to focus on peace and reconciliation in a continent torn by conflicts; justice and development in a region crippled by poverty; and continued evangelization in nations where Christianity competes with both militant Islam and traditional religions. The Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, suggests another major theme:

The title of the exhortation, “The commitment of Africa,” suggests in itself the Pope’s recommendation: to put the future of the continent back in the hands of Africans and their Church.

In the two cities where the Pope will make public appearances, Cotonou and Ouidah, large posters of the Pope are on display, along with signs urging the residents to clean their streets and prepare to greet the visiting Pontiff.

Benin was chosen as the site for the release of the apostolic exhortation in part because the nation is celebrating the 150th anniversary of the arrival of Christian missionaries. During his stay, Pope Benedict will pay tribute to one of the nation’s most famous and beloved citizens, the late Cardinal Bernardin Gantin, who served for years at the Vatican alongside then-Cardinal Ratzinger.

Since the first days of his pontificate, Benedict XVI has shown a special interest in Africa, calling attention to both the widespread poverty that afflicts the continent and the enormous potential for further evangelization. He has also expressed concern about the epidemic spread of AIDS, and on a previous visit he roused a major controversy by saying that condoms do not effectively block the spread of the disease. More recently the Pontiff has indicated that he is concerned about the enduring strength of witchcraft in the region.

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