Blessings, potential and growth.


Four years into his reign, Pope Benedict XVI set foot on African soil for the first time on 17 March amid pomp and acclaim. But while pragmatic consensus pointed to the fact that the Pope's visit would boost Catholicism in Africa and highlight the continent's problems and needs at the time of a global economic recession, the pontiff's choice of Cameroon as his first stop for this key visit did not pass without debate either. Why Cameroon? Cindy Efande finds out.


WITH JUST ABOUT 4.5 MILLION Catholics, Cameroon is a rather small Catholic country. Therefore questions were raised as to why Pope Benedict XVI chose the country as the first stop for his much-heralded maiden visit to Africa. But there where many good reasons:

"Cameroon is truly a prayerful nation where its citizens, like palm wine, are bubbling with spirituality, something the Vatican has long noticed and is encouraging," announced a commentary on Cameroon's state radio.

"The visit celebrates what has become the church's most fertile mission field," said Francis Rocca of Religion News Service. He added: "Pope Benedict visited the region that has produced the greatest growth and some of the greatest challenges for the Catholic Church."

Pope Benedict has made 11 international trips since he became the head of the Roman Catholic Church in April 2005. His predecessor, Pope John Paul II, visited Cameroon twice in 1985 and 1995, and made numerous other trips to different African countries.

Over the course of the 20th century, the Catholic population in sub-Saharan Africa has grown from less than 2 million to nearly 150 million currently. In February, the Vatican reported that the continent was producing priests at a higher rate than any other part of the world, with ordinations rising by 27.6% in 2007.

This probably explains the increase in demand for African priests being invited to take up preaching positions in Europe and the rest of the world, where numbers are diminishing.

A speech by the Pope at a Sunday sermon in St Peter's Square, in Rome, weeks before his visit to Cameroon provided an even broader picture: "I intend to ideally embrace the entire continent, its thousand differences, its deep religious soul, its ancient cultures, its weary path of development and reconciliation, its grave problems, its painful wounds, and its enormous potential and hope."

But while the visit drew world attention to Africa once again, it also placed a special focus on the country's political, social and economic landscape, with some social and media commentators calling on the Pontiff not to shy away from raising important issues such as democracy, corruption, poverty alleviation, and other social ills.

Cameroon arguably bears painful wounds and economic hardship, but it is also a country of hope, vast potential and many blessings. It is also one of the most peaceful and stable countries, as well as one of the biggest economies in West and Central Africa. It has one of the highest literacy rates...

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