Pope Benedict said on Saturday the developed world could not continue to look down on Africa “with the judgmental tone of a moralizer” and impose rules, but must come up with real partnership solutions to solve the continent’s many problems.
The 84-year-old pope made his appeal in an address to officials of Benin, including President Thomas Boni Yayi and the diplomatic corps, on the second day of his trip to the West African nation.
“Too often our mind is blocked by prejudices or by images which give a negative impression of the realities of Africa, the fruit of a bleak analysis,” he said.
“It is tempting to point to what does not work; it is easy to assume the judgmental tone of the moralizer or of the expert who imposes his conclusions and proposes, at the end of the day, few useful solutions.”
The main purpose of the pope’s three-day Benin trip is the publication later on Saturday of a papal document on Africa which he wrote after a synod of African bishops at the Vatican in 2009.
He said on Friday before he arrived that he chose Benin as the sole venue to deliver his document formerly known as an “apostolic exhortation,” because in some ways the country was exemplary.
Benin made one of Africa’s few peaceful transitions to democracy in 1990 after a period of Marxist-Leninist rule that had been supported by the former Soviet Union and Cuba.
Unlike some of its neighbours where inter-religious strife is rife, particularly Nigeria, Benin also enjoys mostly peaceful coexistence among Christianity, Islam and traditional religions.
In his Saturday morning speech to diplomats at the presidential palace, the pope also repeated his condemnation of violence by anyone in God’s name.
“No religion and no culture may justify the appeal or recourse to intolerance and violence,” he said. “To use the revealed word, the sacred scriptures, or the name of God to justify our interests, our easy and convenient policies or our violence, is a very grave fault.”
At an inter-religious meeting in the Italian city of Assisi last month, the pope said he felt “profound shame” for the use of violence by some in the Catholic Church over the course of the centuries, a reference to the crusades and the use of force by missionaries in the New World.
The pope said that the rest of the world should not see Africa merely as a place whose vast resources of energy, minerals, agriculture and people “are easily exploited often for dubious ends”.
This, he said, was “reductionist and disrespectful” and made objects out of Africa and her people. Benedict, however, also alluded to the problem of corruption and greed in Africa.
“Many conflicts have originated in man’s blindness, in his desire for power and for political and economic interest, to mock the dignity of people and of nature,” he said.
Later on Saturday, the pope was visiting Ouidah, a city west of Cotonou which is considered the capital of voodoo in West Africa.
He is visiting the city to pay tribute to the tomb of one of Benin’s most famous native son’s, Cardinal Bernardin Gantin, who worked in the Vatican for many years in a number of top church positions. He died in 2008.