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Cameroon readies for Pope Benedict XVI's visit

Work crews in Cameroon finished renovating sites Monday and choirs practiced inside a soccer stadium where more than 100,000 faithful are expected for a Mass this week with Pope Benedict XVI.
Image: A family looks at a portrait of Pope Benedict in Yaounde, Africa
A family looks at a portrait of Pope Benedict, painted with a cloak and skull cap in Cameroon's national colors, outside the Mary Queen of Apostles Basilica in Yaounde,  where the pope will celebrate vespers on Wednesday.Finbarr O'Reilly / Reuters
/ Source: The Associated Press

Work crews finished renovating sites Monday and choirs practiced inside a soccer stadium where more than 100,000 faithful are expected for a Mass this week with Pope Benedict XVI.

The pope's seven-day trip to Africa — the fastest-growing region for the Roman Catholic church — begins Tuesday and includes stops in both Cameroon and Angola.

"Pope Benedict XVI is a charismatic leader, a holy man who is coming to make my faith deeper," said Augustine Meh Zang, 55, a Yaounde businessman. "He will help Cameroon as a whole look for God. We as a people have erred and sinned too much."

Struggling trader Peter Mbeke was excited about the pope's visit even though his shop was taken down by the government last week along a road where the pope will pass through.

"I've no problem with the Pope. I'm angry with the government delegate who ordered the destruction of my shop without prior notice," he said. "As a Catholic, I join the Holy Father to pray so that God gives me a new opportunity to remake my life."

'Cleanup and reconstruction campaign'
Government delegate Gilbert Tsimi Evouna defended the "cleanup and reconstruction campaign" in the capital and denied that poorly constructed buildings were destroyed because of the pope.

"The construction work to give Yaounde its true look has started long ago," he said.

In remarks Sunday, Benedict said he wants to invigorate the growing church in Africa. While the continent produces priests at a higher rate than anywhere in the world, it finds itself in competition with Islam in Cameroon, Nigeria and elsewhere, while evangelical churches are winning over young people.

Yaounde's archbishop, Victor Tonye Bakot, said the pope's visit to Cameroon comes with a message for the entire continent.

"You know that there are too many wars and misery in Africa," he said. "The pope is coming to explain to us how we can live together in this pastoral and spiritual visit. He is coming to encourage us all to continue praying and deepen our faith."

Major challenges and opportunities
For the German-born Benedict, whose only previous stop in Africa was in Kinshasa in 1987 as a cardinal, the continent presents major challenges and opportunities.

Benedict is expected to meet with Muslim representatives, bishops, health workers and women's advocacy groups during his time in Cameroon and Angola.

He also will meet with political leaders in the two countries, both accused of corrupt use of oil revenues that enrich a small elite while most of their people are impoverished.

Muslims who are scheduled to meet the pope in Cameroon were enthusiastic about his visit.

"For us Muslims, the coming of the pope to Cameroon is a blessing," said one imam, Cheick Ibrahim Moussa. "We cohabit peacefully with Catholic faithful. That apart, we pray to the same God. So Muslims are also very happy to receive the pope here in our country."