YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon, MARCH 17, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI is calling Cameroon a land of hope, life, peace and youth, with a special capacity to help spread the Church's message of reconciliation and justice.

The Pope affirmed this today in an address at Nsimalen Airport in Yaoundé, as he began his apostolic journey to Cameroon and Angola.

After a greeting by the country's president, Paul Biya, and the president of the national bishops' conference, Archbishop Simon-Victor Tonye Bakot, the Pontiff stated, " I want you to know how pleased I am to be here with you on African soil, for the first time since my election to the See of Peter"

"I come among you as a pastor," he affirmed, "I come to confirm my brothers and sisters in the faith."

The Holy Father recalled the witness of great saints from Africa, and the "waves of missionaries and martyrs" who have "continued to bear witness to Christ" throughout the country.

"How fitting," he pointed out, "that Peter’s successor should come to Africa, 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!"

Christian hope

Benedict XVI stated, "Even amid the greatest suffering, the Christian message always brings hope."

He underlined the example of St. Josephine Bakhita, who "offers a shining example of the transformation that an encounter with the living God can bring to a situation of great hardship and injustice."

He continued: "In the face of suffering or violence, poverty or hunger, corruption or abuse of power, a Christian can never remain silent.

"The saving message of the Gospel needs to be proclaimed loud and clear, so that the light of Christ can shine into the darkness of people’s lives.

"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 Pope acknowledged the people left homeless, destitute, orphaned and widowed by regional conflicts. He noted the continent's history, which "saw so many of its people cruelly uprooted and traded overseas to work as slaves."

Today, he said, "human trafficking, especially of defenseless women and children, has become a new form of slavery."

God's Kingdom

The Pontiff observed: "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. Not 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 interethnic or interreligious rivalry, but the righteousness, peace and joy of God’s kingdom, so aptly described by Pope Paul VI as the civilization of love."

The Holy Father noted Cameroon's specific capacity to help the Church "to carry forward her mission of healing and reconciliation."

He stated, "Cameroon is truly a land of hope for many in Central Africa, recognizing that "thousands of refugees from war-torn countries in the region have received a welcome here."

It is a "land of life," he affirmed, a "land of peace" and a "land of youth." He added, "These are all reasons for giving praise and thanks to God."

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

Thousands of people lined the Yaounde streets to watch the Pope pass through on his way to the apostolic nunciature. Tomorrow morning, he plans to celebrate a private Mass in the nunciature before visiting President Biya, and then meeting with the country's bishops.

He will be in Cameroon until Friday, when he will travel to the Angolan capital, Luanda. This is his eleventh apostolic trip out of Italy as Pontiff.

--- --- ---
On ZENIT's Web page:

Full text of address: http://www.zenit.org/article-25389?l=english