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Pope Arrives in Benin, Calls for Balance Between Tradition and Modernity

Pope Benedict XVI speaks to Catholic faithful at Notre Dame cathedral in Cotonou, Benin, Nov. 18, 2011.

Pope Benedict XVI is on a three-day visit to Benin. The pontiff is encouraging Africans to keep hold of their traditions during their drive toward modernity.

“God bless Benin” Pope Benedict said in the local Fon language on his arrival in the commercial capital Cotonou.

He praised the accomplishments of the ancient kingdom of Dahomey and called on today's traditional chiefs to use their wisdom and understanding to help guide what he said is a delicate transition from the traditional to the modern.

In his arrival address, the pope said the need for Africa to modernize should not come at any cost. He urged African government to avoid what he called an “unconditional surrender” to potentially destructive market forces as well as the erosion of human, cultural, ethical, family and religious values.

The pope urged Africa to avoid tribalism and inter-religious tensions, saying its transition to modernity must be guided by recognized values, among them "the dignity of the human person, the importance of the family, and respect for life."

Pope Benedict said the Catholic Church seeks to be close to those in need and reaches out to people searching for God, who the pontiff says is never absent nor irrelevant but is a friend of man.

Pope Benedict told Benin's President Thomas Yayi Boni that it is in this spirit of fraternity that he has come to the country.

The highlight of this pope's second trip to Africa will be the release of a papal document on Africa that was drafted following a synod of African bishops at the Vatican in 2009.

Speaking to reporters traveling with him, Pope Benedict asked why Africa remains in such dire need of help after so many attempts at international assistance. He said many good words have been spoken and sometimes good things have been done, but the world must ask why words and intentions are usually greater than what is realized on the ground.

Africa has the world's fastest-growing Roman Catholic population.