opinionBy Sonnie Ekwowusi
Lagos — Yesterday the papal plane carrying Pope Benedict XVI kissed the soil of Yaoundé, Cameroun amid tears of joy, dancing, drumming and singing from the tumultuous pilgrims and spectators who have been converging in Yaoundé since the last three days. Yes, this is a historic moment for many Camerounians. Every Camerounian has a right to be proud that Pope Benedict is visiting Cameroun, his first visit to an African country since he became Pope in 2005. Any wonder the Pope's visit dominates the subject matter of discussions in several beer parlours (Camerounians drink like fish) in crowded markets, in the streets, in schools and other public fora in Yaoundé. Interestingly several pilgrims from neighbouring African countries including Nigeria have come to Yaounde to witness the first visit of Pope Benedict to Africa. Putting their little pocket money together, a group of Nigerian students and youths had traveled from Lagos to Yaoundé by road to welcome the Pope to Africa. It shows that young people also seek lasting values, not just the ephemeral.
Papal visits are important visits for several reasons. Aside from the spiritual benefits derived from such visits, they exert enormous influence on contemporary public life, dictate the right ordering of society, and, above all, leave a furrow of permanent positive change. With 104 trips outside Italy (16 trips to the African continent) Pope John Paul 11 was outstanding for his tenacity in promoted peace, tolerance, commitment to social justice, respect for human dignity inter-religious dialogues. In fact Pope John Paul 11 acted directly as intermediary in the promotion of justice and peace in countries where peace was threatened. Recall that on 15th December 1982, Pope John Paul 11 had an audience with Yasser Arafat on the peaceful settlement of the Palestinian question. Not to talk of the famous meeting of the Pope to Morocco with King Hassan 11 on August 19th, 1995 which was attended by well over 80,000 youths. Or his visits to Ghana, Kenya, Senegal, Cameroun and Nigeria. In fact Pope John Paul 11's visit to Nigeria during the reign of Sani Abacha will remain indelibly engraved on the minds of many Nigerians. Life was very tough at that time. There were many human rights abuses. The Pope had a private audience with Sani Abacha and members of his family. After the Pope's visit some predicted that there would be change in Nigeria because no country the Pope had visited had remained same. True to their prediction, there was a resounding change in Nigeria; something happened which eventually paved the way for the enthronement of a civilian democracy.
Therefore Pope Benedict's historic visit to Africa marks the dawn of new era in Africa. Although he is not Pope John Paul 11, but the reality of the papacy has not changed. Age upon age, the papacy has remained the same institution acting as the moral compass and attracting the attention of men and nations. Papal teachings on such burning issues as social concerns, human rights, justice, peace, development, just and unjust wars, sexual morality, new international world order, bridging the yawning gap between the developed and developing countries, fighting poverty and misery etc continue to captivate even the most unrepentant cynic. Many Popes like Pope John XX111, Pope Paul V1 and Pope John Paul 11 are still revered today as the consciences of humanity.
Vatican spokesman has said that Pope Benedict's trip to Africa is a trip of hope, healing and overall reconciliation. Which means that the strong-looking German Pope, who will be 82 on April 16, is deeply concerned about Africa's numerous woes and calamities. Like his predecessor Pope Benedict will urge for a new international order in which poor countries would find succour and protection. In Angola, which is still recovering from 27 years of civil war, Pope Benedict is expected to urge members of the international community to hearken to the assistance of Angola and other war-torn African countries. The Pope might appeal to African dictatorships to turn away from their wickedness and allow peaceful democratic changes in their respective countries. Cameroun has been under the iron-grip of a self-imposed dictator for long. The country is also greatly ravaged by corruption. That is why the Pope's meeting with President Paul Biya today at Palais deI'Unite is very important. We hope that after his meeting with the Pope, President Biya will turn a leaf. The Pope would also promote ecumenical dialogue in Africa. Tomorrow he will meet with the representatives of the Muslim Community in Yaoundé.
In a continent continuously torn apart by war, internecine crises, disease, poverty, hunger and political instability the pope's message of hope, peace, reconciliation and human solidarity is bound to act as a moral booster to the efforts at resolving the variegated crises plaguing Africa. As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and a right-hand man of Pope John Paul 11, Pope Benedict appreciated the difficulties facing most African countries. In 1987 he visited the Democratic Republic of Congo (then Zaire). He knows that despite the wind of democracy blowing across the world, many demonic despots are still holding many African countries hostage. He knows that the Africa soil is still a dumping ground for all sorts of useless foreign ideological baggage.
In his best-selling book: Jesus of Nazareth, the Pope brilliantly seeks to restore the true image and identity of Jesus Christ from false depiction. In the same book, he also decries the spiritual and material plundering of Africa by the West. According to the Pope: "Instead of giving them God - and thereby welcoming in from their traditions all that is precious and great - we have brought them the cynicism of a world without God in which only power and profit count."
One cannot agree less with the Pope. Yes, Africa is plagued by poverty, hunger, AIDS and other diseases, but instead of effectively tackling these ills, the West is hiding behind them to impose their own secret agenda on Africa. Under the guise of fighting AIDS, high maternal and infant deaths in Africa, many United Nations Agencies and foreign organizations working in Africa like United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) and International Project Assistance Services (IPAS) are tirelessly mounting pressures on African governments to legalize chemical abortion, sterilization of African women and the so-called safe-sex. Perceiving culture and religion as two great obstacles to the realization of this dream, they have been re-packing abortion under maternal mortality and selling it to African monarchs and religious leaders.
So Africa must watch it. William Wilberforce has since abolished human slavery. But there are new forms of slaveries- abortion, prostitution, human trafficking and a contraception mentality-going on in Africa. Addressing delegates from South Africa, Botswana, Swaziland, Namibia and Lesotho, who recently traveled to the Vatican for a routine papal audience, Pope Benedict warned them to reject these lifestyles that destroy "the fabric of African life, its very source of hope and stability".
With this papal warning, Africa must remain vigilant as the new forces come up against it to undo it. Every society grows with its own unique values and heritage. The African heritage-love for children, respect for elders and parents, dignity of women, sanctity of life and the human person, decency and decorum, hard work, respect for family values, proper upbringing of children etc- form the superstructure for the building of our national ethos. Therefore if we allow this heritage to erode under strong Western influence, we are finished as a people.