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Wednesday, March 18, 2009


VATICAN CITY, 17 MAR 2009 (VIS) - At 4 p.m. today, the Holy Father arrived at Nsimalen airport in Yaounde, Cameroon, on the first stage of his apostolic visit to Africa. The Pope was received by the country's president, Paul Biya, after which he also received greetings from Archbishop Simon-Victor Tonye Bakot of Yaounde, president of the National Episcopal Conference of Cameroon, and from Cardinal Christian Wiyghan Tumi, archbishop emeritus of Douala.

  Having greeted other high-ranking State officials, and diplomatic, religious and military figures, the Holy Father pronounced his address.

  "I come among you as a pastor", he said, "to confirm my brothers and sisters in the faith. This was the role that Christ entrusted to Peter at the Last Supper, and it is the role of Peter's successors. When Peter preached to the multitudes in Jerusalem at Pentecost, there were visitors from Africa present among them. And the witness of many great saints from this continent during the first centuries of Christianity ... guarantees a distinguished place for Africa in the annals of Church history. Right up to the present day, waves of missionaries and martyrs have continued to bear witness to Christ throughout Africa, and today the Church is blessed with almost a hundred and fifty million members"

  The Pope told his audience that he had come "to celebrate with you the life-giving faith in Christ that sustains and nourishes so many of the sons and daughters of this great continent". Then, turning his attention to the forthcoming Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops, he said: "This moment of grace is a summons to all the bishops, priests, religious and lay faithful of the continent to rededicate themselves to the mission of the Church to bring hope to the hearts of the people of Africa, and indeed to people throughout the world.

  "Even amid the greatest suffering, the Christian message always brings hope", he added. "In the face of suffering or violence, poverty or hunger, corruption or abuse of power, a Christian can never remain silent. ... Here in Africa, as in so many parts of the world, countless men and women long to hear a word of hope and comfort. 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 does not propose "new 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. Not bitter inter-ethnic or inter-religious rivalry, but the righteousness, peace and joy of God's kingdom".

  The Holy Father praised the local Church's concern for sick people, describing the fact that AIDS sufferers in Cameroon are able to receive treatment free of charge as "particularly commendable". He also mentioned Church commitment to education, especially in the work of the Catholic University for Central Africa, "a sign of great hope for the future of the region".

  He went on: "Cameroon is truly a land of hope for many in Central Africa. Thousands of refugees from war-torn countries in the region 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. It is a land ... blessed with a young population full of vitality and eager to build a more just and peaceful world. Rightly is it described as 'Africa in miniature', home to over two hundred different ethnic groups living in harmony with one another".

  "As I come among you today", the Pope concluded, "I pray that the Church here and throughout Africa will continue to grow in holiness, in the service of reconciliation, justice and peace".

  Having completed his remarks, the Holy Father travelled to the apostolic nunciature in Yaounde where he spend the night.
PV-CAMEROON/ARRIVAL/YAOUNDE                VIS 20090318 (770)

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