Benedict XVI tells 40,000 Catholics gathered in a football stadium in Cameroon: ‘Do not let yourselves be captivated by selfish illusions’
POPE CELEBRATES STADIUM MASS
BY JOHN THAVIS
CELEBRATING Mass with more than 40,000 Catholics in Cameroon Pope Benedict XVI urged African families to reject the “tyranny of materialism” and other social changes that risk eroding the continent’s traditional values.
The Pope, in a homily at the Amadou Ahidjo football stadium in Yaoundé, the capital, said: “Brothers and sisters in Cameroon and throughout Africa, you who have received from God so many human virtues, take care of your souls. Do not let yourselves be captivated by selfish illusions and false ideals.” The Mass, on the third day of the Pope’s trip, followed a meeting with Cameroon’s bishops and with members of the Muslim community.
It also marked the publication of the working document for October’s Synod of Bishops for Africa. At the end of the liturgy the Pope handed copies of the text to bishops from all over the continent.
Wearing gold vestments, the 81-year-old Pope celebrated Mass on a hut-shaped altar erected at one end of the playing field. The liturgy used eight languages, including Cameroon’s native Ewondo language, and featured African songs backed by the distinctive notes of wooden balaphons.
In a greeting, Archbishop Simon Tonye Bakot of Yaoundé explained that Africans treat the Mvamba, or “grandfather”, with immense respect, and that they welcomed the pontiff as the “great Mvamba”.
The Pope delivered his sermon emphatically, speaking in French and English. He said it was essential for African mothers and fathers to pass on to their children the human and spiritual values of the past, beginning with belief in God.
But social changes, including a growing generation gap and a sense of uprootedness, have made this difficult, he said. “At a time when so many people have no qualms about trying to impose the tyranny of materialism, with scant concern for the most deprived, you must be very careful. Africa in general, and Cameroon in particular, place themselves at risk if they do not recognise the true author of life,” he said.
The Pope said traditional values have also been overturned by a rural exodus and urbanisation that have broken family ties and left many younger people alone, unemployed and disorientated. Africans in general have left the land, physically and morally, resulting in a kind of “interior exile” that alienates them from God and themselves, he said.
“Is this an irresistible development? By no means!” the Pope said. He said the Church is ready to bring spiritual and material help to suffering people of the continent.
“The first priority will consist in restoring a sense of the acceptance of life as a gift from God,” he said. Every “tiny person, however weak”, is created in God’s image, he said, adding: “Every person must live – death must not prevail over life.” The Pope held out St Joseph, whose feast day was celebrated the same day, as a model for husbands and fathers in Africa. He made a special plea for husbands to treat their wives with respect and love, as St Joseph treated Mary. It is a sensitive topic in Africa, where in many places wives are still considered the property of their husbands and subservient to them.
The Pope also offered special words to young Africans, asking them to allow Christ into their lives and, if they feel called, to enter the “supreme service” of the priesthood or consecrated life.
“To the children who no longer have a father, or who live abandoned in the poverty of the streets, to those forcibly separated from their parents, to the maltreated and abused, to those constrained to join paramilitary forces that are terrorising some countries, I would like to say: God loves you, he has not forgotten you and St Joseph protects you!” he said, as the crowd burst into applause.
The Mass was the Pope’s biggest liturgical event in Cameroon and was broadcast on national television. President Paul Biya, a Catholic, sat near the altar with other leading government officials.
A day earlier the Pope addressed Cameroon’s 31 bishops in the Church of Christ the King in the Tsinga quarter of Yaoundé.
He encouraged them to be strong preachers of the Gospel and vigilant shepherds in matters of priestly formation and behaviour, liturgical dignity and Christian marriage.
Emphasising the Church’s missionary task the Pope said bishops must first of all be religious educators and men of prayer in order to evangelise.
He focused on the bishops’ responsibility to guide priests and make sure there is “serious discernment” in choosing candidates for the priesthood.
He said bishops should have personal and profound knowledge of priesthood candidates, overseeing formation programmes that guarantee they are “mature and balanced men” when ordained.
He urged them to be “especially vigilant regarding the faithfulness of priests and consecrated persons to the commitments made at their ordination or entry into religious life”. In the past Vatican officials have expressed concern that the commitment to priestly celibacy be better understood and respected among African clergy.
Cameroon has had a boom in vocations and currently has 1,360 seminarians.
Two days earlier, on Tuesday, March 17, the Pope had been welcomed at the airport by President Biya, who gave him a wooden map of Africa with a papal portrait painted on it. Tens of thousands of well-wishers lined the streets to watch the papal motorcade go by.