Pope in Western Africa to Outline Church's Future

AP | 11/22/2011, 1:55 a.m.
COTONOU, Benin (AP) -- Women wearing dresses bearing Pope Benedict XVI's portrait tried to climb...
Pope Benedict XVI is welcomed upon arrival during a ceremony at Cotonou's international airport in Benin, Friday, Nov. 18, 2011. Catholics carrying umbrellas decorated with Pope Benedict XVI's image greeted him Friday as he embarked on his second trip to Africa, where he planned to outline the church's future for the continent with the fastest growing number of faithful. /AP Photo by Osservatore Romano

COTONOU, Benin (AP) -- Women wearing dresses bearing Pope Benedict XVI's portrait tried to climb flagpoles to catch a glimpse of him as he arrived Friday on his second trip to Africa, while security struggled to hold back African nuns trying to reach over the cordon to touch him.

Africa, where the 84-year-old pope is returning for the first time since his controversial comments on condoms two years ago, is the fastest-growing region for the Roman Catholic Church. Its rapidly growing congregations and pool of aspiring priests is helping breathe life into a church which has seen a steep decline in the Western hemisphere.

Several hundred women lined the tarmac awaiting his arrival, wearing dresses with his face on them. Supporters from each parish wore a different color headscarf - blue, green, red and yellow. The faithful tried to shield their faces from the blazing sun as temperatures reached 32 degrees Celsius (90 degrees Fahrenheit).

Catholics carrying umbrellas printed with his silhouette lined the highway. Some wept as he emerged from the airport encased in the bulletproof glass case on top of his popemobile.

On this trip, he plans to outline the church's future for the continent.

Even in Benin, the heartland of the voodoo tradition, the number of Catholics has grown by nearly half in the past decade, adding more than half-a-million converts at the same time when congregations are declining in Europe.

Benedict's first trip to Africa two years ago was overshadowed by his controversial comments, when he drew criticism on this continent ravaged by HIV/AIDS for saying that condom distribution was increasing the problem. This time the pope is hoping to present a document on how church doctrine can be used to solve the continent's ills, drawing on ideas provided by African bishops themselves.

"May this document fall into the ground and take root, grow and bear much fruit," the pope said upon arrival.

The guide is based in part on the 57 recommendations of the 2009 synod, where bishops met to articulate the church's role in Africa.

"Modernity need not provoke fear, but neither can it be constructed by neglecting the past," he said. "It needs to be accompanied by prudence for the good of all in order to avoid the pitfalls which exist on the African continent and elsewhere," he said Friday.

Among the recommendations in the document is a "sacrament of reconciliation" which will use the church's dogma of forgiveness as a tool to try to resolve violence. In remote parts of Africa where there are no courts and no police force, communities have often created their own rituals of reconciliation. One of the proposals that may be included in the papal document is to do an in-depth study of these practices in order to try to learn from them.

Priests who have traveled from neighboring countries to see the pope say that the idea of looking to African traditions shows that the Catholic faith has become more supple since colonial times, when becoming Christian meant turning your back on tradition.