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Pope in Western Africa to Outline Church's Future

AP | 11/22/2011, 1:55 a.m.
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

Cameroonian priest the Rev. Jean Benoit Nlend says that among his country's Bassa people, numerous rituals have been created to deal with life's conflicts. If a man beats his wife and she returns to her parents' home, the husband can only get her back if he comes with plates of food, and negotiates a cash amount to be paid to her kin in reparation.

"In my seminary in Cameroon, we went around the table and talked about the types of rituals our ancestors performed to fix problems that arose in the society. If you try to destroy these things, you render the people fragile. You take away their moral coordinates," said Nlend, an editor at Cameroon's Episcopalian publication.

"Catholicism is a much more supple religion now than it once was. The church shouldn't try to chase away African culture. What it needs to do is act like a sieve, and remove only the things that don't help human beings evolve," he said.

Because of this more supple attitude toward African culture, Catholicism is booming on the continent. Africa has become the world's feeder church, said Catholic scholar Lamin Sanneh, a Yale Divinity School professor who is from the African nation of Gambia.

"Europe is now looking to Africa to replenish its churches. In France, the most famous Catholic seminary has more priests in training from Africa than from all of Europe," said Sanneh, who is himself a native of Gambia, a small nation north of Benin.

The Rev. Andre Quenum, the publisher of main Catholic weekly in Benin, says Africans have been particularly drawn to the church's teachings because of the that poverty and violence that have wracked the continent.

"One of the consequences of modernity in Europe is that people have been able to solve many of the problems of daily life. If you fall sick you can go to a clinic," he said. "Here when you get sick, you could very well die. So we put our problems in God's hands," he said. "And this is where the pope has seen our potential."

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