Pope Benedict XVI embarked on a two-nation visit to Africa on Tuesday hoping to encourage peace and invigorate a growing Catholic Church on the continent.
Pope Benedict began his first trip to the African continent in Cameroon. On Friday he will travel to Angola and spend a total of seven days away from the Vatican.
This trip to Africa is considered important for the German pope. Africa is the fastest growing region for the Catholic Church. The faithful loyal to the pope now account for nearly 20 percent of the continent's population.
For the pope this continent presents major challenges and opportunities. Many African countries are devastated by conditions of poverty, disease and armed conflict and the pope hopes to be able to give new hope to those who are suffering.
Africa is also a land ravaged by AIDS. More than one million people in sub-Sahara Africa have died from the disease. While medical workers advocate the use of condoms to help prevent the spread of AIDS, the Catholic Church insists on fidelity within heterosexual marriage, chastity and abstinence.
Speaking to journalists on the plane to Cameroon, Pope Benedict said condoms were not the answer to the continent's fight against HIV.
In Cameroon, Pope Benedict will visit charities, meet Muslim leaders and attend a gathering of bishops trying to chart the church's role in bettering Africans' lives.
In Angola he will mark the 500th anniversary of the evangelization of the former Portuguese colony. The Archbishop of Luanda, Damiao Franklin, says expectations are high.
The archbishop says everyone here is happy to receive the Holy Father. They consider it a grace and a privilege. Angola has suffered a lot with the war, he added, and is now beginning a new life, a process of reconciliation and reconstruction, not only of infrastructures but also of hearts.
Both Cameroon and Angola are resource-rich nations, where oil has flowed for many years and millions of dollars worth of minerals have been dug from the ground. But most of the populations still live in poverty. Political leaders have been accused of corruption. Many hope the pope will urge the continent's leaders to put an end to mismanagement and abuse of power.
Pope Benedict also said that during this foreign visit he intends to make an appeal for "international solidarity" for Africa in the face of the global economic downturn.