Pope Benedict the Sixteenth who became Pope four years ago embarks on his first papal trip to Africa Tuesday. The seven-day pilgrimage will take him to Angola and Cameroon where more than 100 thousand faithful will attend a mass later this week.
Africa is considered one of the fastest-growing regions for the Roman Catholic Church. Pope Benedict reportedly told pilgrims and tourists in Saint Peter's Square Sunday that he intends to embrace the entire African continent and its many differences. He's also expected to meet with political leaders in both Angola and Cameroon.
John Baptiste Odama is Archbishop of Gulu Diocese in northern Uganda. He told VOA Pope Benedict is coming to Africa to give hope and encouragement to the people of the continent who have been beleaguered by so many problems.
"In Cameroon, the Pope is coming to give to the Church in Africa the agenda for the next synod (a council or assembly of church officials) of bishops of Africa. That means the agenda for discussion for the African bishops in Rome next September or October about the Church in Africa in service to reconciliation, justice and peace. That is the purpose of his visit. Of course, he's coming to give hope to the people of Africa who have been very seriously affected by so many unfortunate situations, economical, political," he said.
Addressing pilgrims in Saint Peters' Square Sunday, Pope Benedict said he was coming to Africa with the victims of hunger and injustice on his mind.
Amnesty International earlier this year accused the government of Paul Biya (who has ruled Cameroon for nearly 27 years) of human rights violations spanning more than ten years – including killings and torture. Amnesty said the violations included mainly repression of political dissent.
The governments of Cameroon and Angola, the two countries the Pope will be visiting have both been accused of corrupt use of their oil revenues to enrich the elite.
Archbishop Odama said Pope Benedict will address the issue of human rights during his Africa visit, but would not point fingers at specific African leaders.
"Certainly he will address these issues as general setbacks for Africa to which he will call the attention of Africa as a whole and the leaders to direct their people together to address these issues. I don't think he's coming for finger-pointing as such," Odama said.
Odama said while Africa is one of the fastest-growing regions for the Roman Catholic Church, the Church leadership has not done enough in terms of advocating for the poor.
"As far as the faith is concerned, there is some growth in that. The Church is on the better side in Africa. But as far as agitation of political, economic and things, we are rather on the negative side because many of our countries are infected by civil strives and continuous wars therefore causing more suffering to the citizens. Many countries are below poverty line in economic sense; there is a lot of this illiteracy situation in Africa, poor agriculture, hunger, migration, permanent refugees, corruption and the HIV/AIDS," Odama said.
He said one of the purposes of the upcoming synod on Africa is to re-awaken and reinforce the church's willpower to do more in addressing some of Africa's setbacks.
"From my own outlook, we have done quite a lot, but not enough to really address the issues to logical conclusion. We have a lot more to do and that is the purpose of the forthcoming synod on Africa. It is meant to re-awaken and strengthen our determination to speak and act also in favor of addressing what I call the setbacks for Africa," Odama said.