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Pope Calls for Focus On Africa

Pope Benedict XVI

Two African presidents and a prime minister were among the thousands of pilgrims in Saint Peter's Square for the pope's address to a general audience. The pope urged the international community to become more involved in helping solve the problems of the African continent.

Clapping and cheering rose from Saint Peter's Square as Pope Benedict XVI arrived in his open-top jeep and greeted the faithful. The pope then sat on his throne in front of the basilica and addressed the huge crowd in different languages.

Over 25,000 people were gathered in the square under a brilliant sun and blue skies. Among those present in the crowd were the presidents of Burkina Faso and Mali and the prime minister of Swaziland who greeted the pope personally at the end of the audience.

"Today is Africa Day, " said Pope Benedict XVI.

The pope said his thoughts and prayers were with the beloved people of Africa. Pope Benedict urged Catholic institutions to continue to give generous attention to the people on the continent. He also urged the international community to pay closer attention to the problems of Africa.

In his message, the pope also said that even in difficult times the Lord does not abandon and for this reason the torch of faith must be kept high.

Pope Benedict then told those gathered that Thursday the Church marks the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ. He said he will preside over an evening mass in the square of the Basilica of Saint John Lateran in Rome.

"Afterwards our traditional procession to Saint Mary Major will take place," said the pope. "I cordially invite all of you to join this celebration."

Pope Benedict XVI has a busy schedule this week. He is to carry out his first trip away from the Vatican on the weekend. On Sunday he travels to the southern Italian city of Bari to preside over the closing mass of a week-long Eucharist Congress.