Vatican

Pope to Muslims: 'Religion rejects all violence'

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Yaoundè, Cameroon
For a sound-bite sense of the point Pope Benedict XVI wanted to make in his meeting with 22 African Muslims, think of it this way: A shorter version of Regensburg, without the poke in the eye.

Regensburg, of course, refers to the pope’s famous 2006 address at the University of Regensburg in Bavaria, in which he took up the relationship between reason and faith. Reason shorn of faith, he suggested, becomes skepticism and nihilism, which is the typical pathology of the West; faith divorced from reason, meanwhile, becomes fundamentalism and intolerance, which one sees in some currents in the Islamic world.

That carefully reasoned argument, however, was overshadowed by how the pope began. He opened the Regensburg address with a citation from a 14th century Byzantine emperor, to the effect that Muhammad, the founder of Islam, “brought things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.” That line triggered a firestorm of protest in the Islamic world, and in some ways the Vatican has been in damage-control mode ever since.

Pope demands halt to sexual, financial scandals

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Yaoundè, Cameroon
On a day in which his focus turned largely to the inner life of the church, Pope Benedict XVI indirectly, yet unmistakably, demanded a halt to financial and sexual scandals that have recently tarnished the image of Catholicism in Africa, a continent that is otherwise perhaps the most compelling “good news” story for the church in the world in light of dramatic 20th century growth.

Speaking to the bishops of Cameroon, the pope called for greater oversight of priests and religious.

“I urge you to be especially vigilant regarding the faithfulness of priests and consecrated persons to the commitments made at their ordination or entry into religious life,” Benedict told the bishops in a meeting in Christ the King Church in Tsinga, outside the national capital of Yaoundè.

“The authenticity of their witness requires that there be no dichotomy between what they teach and the way they live each day,” the pope said.

While welcoming the bumper crop of candidates for the priesthood in Cameroon, the pope urged bishops to exercise “serious discernment” to ensure that future priests are “mature and balanced men.”

Cameroon bishop backs pope on condoms

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Seen through Western eyes, the Catholic church in Africa often presents an intriguing mix of deep conservatism on some issues – especially sexual morality – and remarkably progressive views on other matters, such as economic justice, peace, and the environment. Cameroon’s Bishop George Nkubo, who heads the mostly English-speaking Kumbo diocese in the country’s northwest, illustrates that mix. Commenting on day one of Pope Benedict XVI’s first voyage to Africa, Nkubo strongly backed the pope’s line on condoms and AIDS, insisting that in his rural diocese, the easy availability of condoms encourages promiscuity and a false sense of invulnerability. Only personal conversion, he argued, including sexual self-discipline, offers a long-term solution to the AIDS crisis. Yet in almost the same breath, Nkubo called upon the church in Cameroon, and across Africa, to be more outspoken in its ‘option for the poor’ and its resistance to oppression. He also said that any bishop who does not offer concrete witness to solidarity with the poor is ‘failing in his duties.’Nkubo was among the bishops on hand to greet Benedict XVI this afternoon in Yaoundè, Cameroon’s capital.

Pope risks becoming ëDali Lama in papal dressí

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Political scientist and philosopher Ernesto Galli della Loggia, a lay professor at the University of San Raffaele in Milan, is one of Italy’s foremost commentators on Catholic affairs despite being a self-professed nonbeliever. His editorials appear regularly in Corriere della Sera, Italy’s leading daily newspaper. His analysis of Benedict XVI’s recent letter to the bishops of the world, in which the pope comments on the uproar surrounding the lifting of the excommunications of four traditionalist bishops, including one who has denied the Holocaust, was published on March 14. The following is an NCR translation.

For its exceptional character, and for the words it contains, the letter of Benedict XVI to Catholic bishops reveals much more than the personal anguish of a pope who, with regard to the Williamson affair, has been attacked and harassed by his own, and who sees how even in the church – for that matter, even in the Vatican itself, as the editor of L’Osservatore Romano has made clear – people “bite and devour one another” (Galatians 5:13-15).

'Africa in miniature,' warts and all, awaits Benedict

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Pope Benedict XVI is making his first visit to Africa March 17-23, travelling to Cameroon and Angola. John Allen is in Africa covering the pope, and in this piece he previews the challenges awaiting Benedict on the first leg of the trip in Cameroon. Allen’s daily coverage will appear at NCRonline.

Yaoundè, Cameroon

Assuming Pope Benedict XVI has his eyes open when he touches down in Cameroon tomorrow afternoon, he’ll quickly discover that he picked a great place to dip his toes into Africa.

Guidebooks typically call Cameroon “Africa in miniature,” a reference to the sprawling ethnic, linguistic, geographical and religious diversity in this nation of 19 million, located on Africa’s west-central coast, which is roughly the size of California. (Sports fans probably know Cameroon best for its legendary soccer team, the “Indomitable Lions,” which has qualified for the World Cup more often than any other African squad; it made a storybook run into the quarter-finals in 1990, losing to England in penalty time.)

Benedict needs to show that he 'gets' Africa

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The problem with first impressions, as the saying goes, is that you only get to make one.

As Pope Benedict XVI prepares for his African debut March 17-23, visiting Cameroon and Angola on his first swing through Catholicism's most dynamic "growth market," he faces a series of dilemmas:

  • How to raise consciousness about the continent's travails without feeding African resentments that Westerners only report bad news;

  • Signaling that despite his European baggage, the pope "gets" Africa — for example, that his crusade against a Western "dictatorship of relativism" is largely moot here, since the grass-roots reality is not secularism but rather vibrant religious pluralism;

  • Keeping lines of communication open with his local hosts without glossing over a serious "democratic deficit" in their regimes;

  • Encouraging the vibrancy of African Catholicism without turning a blind eye to its growing pains — including a sometimes shallow sense of Catholic identity and the lingering tug of tribal and regional divisions.

Pope Benedict decision might further irritate Jews

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In moves that may further aggravate Jewish/Catholic tensions, a Vatican envoy has announced that Pope Benedict XVI will not enter Israel’s main Holocaust museum during his May 8-15 trip to the Holy Land, though he will stop at a memorial connected to the site, and the pope has also sent a letter to the world’s Catholic bishops defending his controversial decision to lift the excommunication of four traditionalist prelates, including one who has denied the Holocaust.

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January 13-26, 2017

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