June 19, 2013
Pope Benedict VXI urges Africa not to surrender to market forces
The pope arrived in the largest city in Benin, West Africa, to start a three-day trip whose highlight will be the publication of a papal document on Africa which he wrote after a synod of African bishops at the Vatican in 2009.
Benin is also considered a cradle of voodoo in West Africa and the pope is due to meet leaders of traditional religions tomorrow, some of whom have complained about Christian intolerance of their beliefs.
In his arrival address, the pope spoke of the need for African countries to modernize but said it should not come at any cost. Among the "pitfalls", he said African nations should avoid the "unconditional surrender to the law of the market and that of finance".
Ironically, the pope was seen off at Rome airport by new Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti, whose government has been tasked with introducing economic reforms to save Italy, and possibly Europe, from financial ruin because of the instability of financial markets.
The pope urged nations to avoid the potentially "destructive" effects of unbridled market forces as well as tribalism, inter-religious tensions, and the erosion of human, cultural, ethical, family and religious values.
"The transition to modernity must be guided by sure criteria based on recognized values," he said, adding that these were "the dignity of the human person, the importance of the family, and respect for life".
Speaking to reporters aboard the plane taking him to Africa, the pope also touched on some of the major issues facing the continent and the Roman Catholic Church there.
He said the world should ask why, after so many international attempts to help Africa, much of the continent was still in dire need.
"There have been many international conferences for Africa, many good words have been pronounced, and sometimes good things have been done, we must recognize that. But usually words and intentions are greater than what is realized and we must ask ourselves why," he said.
He also said the Catholic Church needed to react to the growth of evangelical sects in Africa, which are luring followers away from Catholicism and draining some local Catholic communities.
He said the Catholic faith sometimes seemed too "complicated and heavy".
The Church needed to bring "new vitality to the Catholic faith and offer a simple, deep and understandable message," he said on the plane.
Benedict VXI told reporters he chose Benin as the sole venue to deliver his documents on Africa because it is in some ways exemplary.
He said it enjoyed democracy and mostly peaceful coexistence between Christianity, Islam, and traditional religions.
A voodoo leader attending a meeting of traditional religious dignitaries today said he hoped the pope would urge Christians in Benin to be more tolerant of voodoo.
"I invite the pope to tell his followers to stop acts of provocation against the voodoo culture," said Dah Aligbonon. "All followers of all religions, including Catholicism, come from our traditional religions."
The streets of Cotonou were adorned with placards bearing the image of the pope, cars and motorbikes carried signs welcoming his arrival, and market stalls sold pope souvenirs including calendars and hats.