Benedict in Africa (Update)
John Allen continues his fine coverage:
In Cameroon today, Benedict XVI seemed infected with an “ad extra” spirit, concentrating on how the gospel message can transform the broader culture. He delivered a largely outward-looking message during his open-air Mass before an enthusiastic crowd of 40,000 at a downtown sports stadium in Yaoundè, then visiting the Cardinal Paul Emile Léger Rehabilitation Centre to express solidarity with a group of disabled and ill people.
He also today presented the instrumentum laboris, or “working paper,” for the upcoming Synod for Africa. Speaking of the church in Africa, the working paper declares that “she ought not to retire into herself,” and calls for a “more prophetic role” in the social and political life of the continent. (Read more about the synod document: Pope unveils African Synod preparation paper.)
One clear emphasis of the document is that the lay faithful working in politics, finance, and other sectors ought to transform African societies from the inside out.
The Mass this morning amounted to a celebration of Catholicism in Africa, the continent where the church has seen the most dynamic growth over the last century. African drums kept up a steady beat throughout the liturgy, native dancers presented the Book of Gospels, and worshippers danced, swayed and sang throughout the Mass.
Later in the day, at the Cardinal Léger Centre, the Pope spoke to the sick and disabled and their families:
In the presence of such torment, we feel powerless and we cannot find the right words. Before a brother or sister plunged into the mystery of the Cross, a respectful and compassionate silence, a prayerful presence, a gesture of tenderness and comfort, a kind look, a smile, often achieve more than many words. This was the experience of a small group of men and women, including the Virgin Mary and the Apostle John, who followed Jesus in the depths of his suffering at the time of his Passion and his death on the Cross. Among them, the Gospel tells us, was an African, Simon of Cyrene. He was given the task of helping Jesus to carry his Cross on the way to Golgotha. This man, albeit through no choice of his own, came to the aid of the Man of Sorrows when he had been abandoned by all his followers and handed over to blind violence. History tells us, then, that an African, a son of your continent, took part, at the price of his own suffering, in the infinite suffering of the one who ransomed all men, including his executioners. Simon of Cyrene could not have known that it was his Saviour who stood there before him. He was “drafted in” to assist him (cf. Mk 15:21); he was constrained, forced to do so. It is hard to accept to carry someone else’s cross. Only after the resurrection could he have understood what he had done. Brothers and sisters, it is the same for each of us: in the depths of our anguish, of our own rebellion, Christ offers us his loving presence even if we find it hard to understand that he is at our side. Only the Lord’s final victory will reveal for us the definitive meaning of our trials.
Vatican Radio has the full text, as well as the other addresses.
John Allen has a nuanced reading of the Pope’s time in Cameroon and the differing perceptions it has evoked:
It’s almost as if the pope has made two separate visits to Cameroon: the one reported internationally and the one Africans actually experienced.
In the U.S. and many other parts of the world, coverage has been “all condoms, all the time,” triggered by comments from Benedict aboard the papal plane to the effect that condoms aren’t the right way to fight AIDS. In Africa, meanwhile, the trip has been a hit, beginning with Benedict’s dramatic insistence that Christians must never be silent in the face of “corruption and abuses of power,” and extending through a remarkable meeting with African Muslims in which the pope said more clearly and succinctly what he wanted to say three years ago in his infamous Regensburg address, and without the gratuitous quotation from a Byzantine emperor.
Vast and pumped-up crowds flocked to see the pope, and Benedict seemed swept up in the enthusiasm. Twice he referred to Africa as the “continent of hope,” and at one point, this consummate theologian even mused aloud about a new burst of intellectual energy in Africa that might generate a 21st century version of the famed school of Alexandria, which gave the early church such luminaries as Clement and Origen.
The rest is here, including his fascinating interview with Archbishop Onaiyekan of Abuja, Nigeria.