YAOUNDE, Cameroon – Pope Benedict XVI urged Cameroon's bishops Wednesday to defend the traditional African family from the dangers of modernity and secularization and to spare the poor from the impact of globalization.
On his first African pilgrimage, Benedict also called it the duty of all Christians — particularly those with political and economic responsibilities — to contribute to the building of a "more just world where everyone can live with dignity."
The pope met with Cameroon President Paul Biya, one of Africa's longest-ruling strongmen, who has been in power since 1982 and recently was accused by the Amnesty International rights organization of seeking to crush political opposition.
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No details of the meeting at the presidential palace were immediately given.
The newspaper Le Jour carried a front-page interview with Cameroon Cardinal Christian Tumi asking Biya not to run again in 2011.
From the presidential palace, Benedict, on the second day of this tour, was driven to Christ the King Church to speak to Cameroon's 31 bishops and set down their mission.
Benedict said that while the Catholic church in Africa is the fastest growing in the world, it faces competition from increasingly popular evangelical movements and "the growing influence of superstitious forms of religion."
The German-born pope also said that the exuberant local African rites should not "obstruct" the liturgy of the Mass.
And he spoke of the needs of the poor.
"In the context of globalization with which we are all familiar, the church takes a particular interest in those who are most deprived," he said. "The bishop's mission leads him to be the defender of the rights of the poor."
He also worried about the impact of modernity and secularization on the traditional African family, telling the bishops to promote the understanding that marriage is indissoluble.
The meeting with the bishops had long been planned for the cathedral in Yaounde, but construction there has not been finished, amid allegations in the local media that the funds set aside were embezzled by clergy.
Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said he was aware of reports that the funds were missing but had no comment.
In a briefing to reporters, Lombardi also elaborated on the pope's comments a day earlier on condom use and the fight against AIDS, which had set off criticism. The pope said that the distribution of condoms is not the answer, and that, "on the contrary, it increases the problem."
Lombardi noted the pope was expressing a long-standing Vatican position. He said Benedict wanted to stress that a reliance on condoms distracted from the need for proper education in sexual conduct.
The pontiff is on a weeklong pilgrimage to Africa that also includes a visit to Angola later this week.