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Pope Visits Cameroon

Pope Benedict is making Cameroon the first stop of a week-long trip to Africa. Political opponents of long-time President Paul Biya hope the pontiff will speak out about Cameroon's human rights record.

Pope Benedict said he is coming to Africa to address what he called the continent's enormous potential and its painful wounds of hunger, sickness, injustice, and violence.

In Cameroon, human-rights activists hope that message includes mention of what Amnesty International calls extrajudicial execution, arbitrary arrest, torture, and unlawful detention by President Paul Biya's government to repress political dissent.

The advocacy group Progressive Initiative for Cameroon said the Pope's visit will be a disappointment if he does not openly denounce what it called human-rights abuses, bad governance, corruption, and undemocratic practices, including President Biya's changing the constitution to extend his 26-years in power.

Film director Mfuh Ebenezer said previous visits by Pope John Paul II in 1985 and 1995 did not change the government's approach to human rights.

"Others have come and nothing has actually changed," he said.

And Ebenezer expects little change from President Biya after this papal visit either.

"You know, our head of state when he took over power we said, "OK, a Christian taking over power from a Muslim and being a Catholic himself." But you know, in all his speeches, I have never heard him pronounce the word Jesus, God maybe, say God Bless Cameroon. We have hard-hearted politicians who are refusing to take the wind of change," said Ebenezer.

While in Cameroon, Pope Benedict will meet with President Biya along with Muslim leaders and those helping the physically disabled.

The Archbishop of Douala, Cardinal Christian Tumi, said the Pope will re-inforce the church's role in transforming society.

"He is coming as a spiritual leader. He is not coming as an agent of development. If the spiritual life of our country is not what it should be, we shall never progress materially," he said.

Cardinal Tumi said the Pope's meeting with Catholic leaders from 52 African nations to prepare for a synod at the Vatican in October begins a period of reflection about living reconciled in justice and peace on a continent damaged by conflict and injustice.

Security forces destroyed several dozen market stalls in Yaounde as part of what state radio called a process of embellishing the city in preparation for the Pope's visit. Photographs of President Biya and Pope Benedict appear together on a downtown billboard with the words: "A perfect communion."

Reverend Antoine Depadoue Tchounang is secretary general of the International Catholic Union of the Press. He said the papal visit is not an endorsement of the Biya government.

"Some people have been saying that it is some sort of acknowledgement of the achievements of Cameroon. I think we have to be clear. He is coming to pay a visit to the bishops of Africa who are assembling in Yaounde. Even if he does not speak clearly against this and against that, as a religious leader, he is coming to bring us the love of God," he said.

More than 100,000 people are expected for Pope Benedict's open-air mass Thursday at Ahmadou Ahidjo Stadium.