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Pope ends trip with call for peace in Sudan.

Announces special Synod of Bishops for Africa in 1994

KHARTOUM, Sudan - Pope John Paul II concluded his 10th trip to Africa, Feb. 10, having spoken before tens of thousands and having repeated calls for religious and ethnic tolerance.

His three-nation trip started Feb. 3 in Benin, included a five-day stop in Uganda and nine hours in Sudan.

Along the way, the pope was greeted by scores of worshipers. He also met with dignitaries and others to discuss troubling issues confronting the continent, such as the AIDS epidemic.

The pope told one gathering that he "came as a friend of Africa, in solidarity with the men and women of this continent at this time of change when new possibilities for human development are emerging but new threats to peace also loom on the horizon."

|Nothing to do with the devil'

His first stop was in Benin, where he spent two days. It was here that the white-robed pontiff and the pink-robed great chief of Benin's vodun cult reached out to each other in friendship. The two met on the second day of the pope's trip during a gathering in Cotonou for the followers of vodun, the ancient animist religion that is the basis of voodoo.

"I have never seen God, but today I have seen the pope. And having seen him, I recognize I have seen the good God who has prayed for all the vodun," said the gild-crowned chief, Sossa Guedehoungue.

The Catholic church recognizes that which is good and true in other religions, the pope told the 100 people gathered for the meeting. He also said that vodun followers can know Christ and become Christians without betraying their cultural heritage.

Senou Zannou, who spoke on behalf of vodun, said the progress of Catholicism does not frighten them. "The master of life knows that vodun has nothing to do with the devil or Satan. It is God that is the final object of the cult of vodun."

The pope said it was an important part of his ministry to meet with believers of other religious traditions and to promote dialogue for mutual enrichment.

That same day, the pope called on Christians, Muslims and animists in Benin to respect one anothers' religious beliefs, during a meeting with Muslim representatives in the central Beninese city of Parakou. Statistics indicate that Benin is about 15 percent Catholic and about 15 percent Muslim, with most of the rest practicing traditional African religions.

AIDS, children, tragedy

While in Uganda, where he spent five days, the pope listened to and blessed young victims of AIDS. In a meeting with youths in Kampala, Veronica Chansa, a 13-year-old girl dressed in her blue-white school uniform, told the pope she contracted AIDS after being raped while coming home from school.

Chansa is among an estimated 1.5 million Ugandans who have the immunodeficiency virus that causes AIDS. Uganda has more than 35,000 officially reported cases, the largest number on the African continent.

During a rally of about 30,000 youth, the pope called for chastity and told the young people that sexuality is a language of love that "requires a commitment to lifelong fidelity." AIDS in Uganda, as in other African countries, is spread mostly through heterosexual relations.

In a written papal message, the pope offered comfort and compassion for AIDS victims. He also asked doctors and researchers "not to delay" in their search for cures and treatments, and he admonished them "not to allow commercial considerations to detract from their committed efforts."

Try to get along

At the foot of the Mountains of the Moon in Kasese, the pope called on Uganda's ethnic groups to cherish their identities but avoid ethnic division.

"Now is the |acceptable time, the day of salvation,' the day for all Ugandans to cast aside the traces of destructive divisions based on inequality, ethnic enmity and rivalry," the pope said in an outdoor Mass in western Uganda.

The area around Kasese was the scene of tribal warfare in the late 1960s, again after the overthrow of Idi Amin in 1979 and after President Yoweri Museveni came to power in a 1986 coup.

In Soroti, which was his first stop in Uganda, John Paul praised efforts to bring peace and security to the nation but told Uganda's military president that human-rights abuses must stop.

Last fall, the nation's bishops and Amnesty International said Museveni and the government had not done enough to stop human-tights abuses by the army.

|Hands dripping blood'

On the last day of his trip, the pope spent his final hours in Sudan, calling for peace and respect for the religious rights of Sudanese Catholics. "All the church asks for is the freedom to pursue her religious and humanitarian mission," the pope said upon his arrival in Khartoum.

Sudan is in the midst of a civil war pitting the mostly Arab-Muslim North against black Christians and animists from the South. The fundamentalist Muslim government of Khartoum has been accused of human-rights violations and of trying to impose Islamic law and Arabic language on non-Muslims.

"I have kissed the soil of Sudan with profound sentiments of peace and goodwill," the pope said as he was welcomed at the airport by Sudan's president, Gen. Omar Al Bashir.

Before the pope's arrival, a Sudanese bishop crossed into Uganda to warn the pope that the Sudanese government would try to "blindfold him with the red carpet."

Bishop Paride Taban of Torit gave the pope a letter from members of the New Sudanese Council of Churches who live in areas under rebel control. The letter asked the pope to call attention to the "immeasurable sufferings and the utter destitution of our people."

It also accused Sudanese leaders of deepening religious discrimination, severely restricting the proclamation of the gospel, hindering many church activities and discriminating against Sudanese Africans on racial grounds.

The letter offered this warning for when he met with Sudanese leaders later in his trip: "You must know, Holy Father, that you are shaking hands dripping blood of Sudanese Christians."

In his welcoming address, Bashir said the papal visit gives the pope a chance to see the facts for himself "and to see how the Sudan ... has devised ways and means whereby all can enjoy life and live in harmony, fraternity and tranquillity."

The pope spelled out his demands for justice and peace later that day in a formal meeting with Bashir. He told Bashir, who came to power in a 1989 military coup, that the measure of a national government's maturity is the way it respects human rights and protects minorities.

"Only a legally guaranteed respect for human rights in a system of equal justice for all can create the right conditions for peaceful coexistence and cooperation in serving the common good," the pope advised.

Looking ahead

The pope announced that a special Synod of Bishops for Africa will take place at the Vatican in 1994.

The announcement came more than four years after the pope called for the synod. The pope plans to travel to several African countries after the April 10, 1994, synod, he said. "I have the intention of coming to Africa for a celebration phase to solemnly promulgate the fruits of the special assembly," the pope said during a meeting in Kampala with the synod planning committee.

The pope also released the working document that will form the basis of presentations and discussions of the synod. The document and the synod discussions will be divided into five topics: proclaiming the gospel, inculturation, ecumenical and interreligious dialogue, justice and peace, and communications.
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Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Feb 19, 1993
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