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Pope Praises Muslim-Christian Relations in Cameroon

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Pope Benedict says cooperation between Muslims and Christians in Cameroon should serve as a beacon of peaceful coexistence for other African nations. The pope celebrated mass at an open-air stadium in the capital Yaounde.

Pope Benedict XVI leaves following a special mass at the Amadou Ahidjo stadium, in Yaounde, Cameroon, 19 Mar 2009
Pope Benedict XVI leaves following a special mass at the Amadou Ahidjo stadium, in Yaounde, Cameroon, 19 Mar 2009

More than 40,000 people jammed into Amadou Ahidjo stadium for the open-air Mass, with thousands more watching on huge television screens outside. Crowds stretched from the stadium to the presidential palace, with many people wearing special pope cloth and waving Vatican and Cameroon flags.

The pontiff's bulletproof "popemobile" twice circled the stadium's running track as he waived to crowds dancing to traditional music.

In his homily, the Pope spoke with compassion for African children forced into combat by paramilitary groups, saying God loves them and has not forgotten them.

Before the Mass, Pope Benedict met with 22 leaders from Cameroon's Muslim minority at Yaounde's Apostolic Nunciature, telling them that religion is the basis of all human culture. He said religion rejects all forms of violence and totalitarianism not only on principles of faith, but because it is the right thing to do.

With violence between Muslims and Christians a common occurrence in neighboring Nigeria, the pope praised the peaceful coexistence of the religions in Cameroon, saying it shows other Africans the enormous potential of an inter-religious commitment to peace and justice.

Pope Benedict met Wednesday with Cameroonian President Paul Biya whose political opponents have called for the pontiff to speak out against human rights abuses. Amnesty International says the Biya government is using extrajudicial execution, arbitrary arrest, torture, and unlawful detention to repress political dissent.

At the start of his visit, the pope called for action against corruption and abuse of power. Without specifically mentioning President Biya or Cameroon, the pontiff said Christians can never remain silent in the face of suffering or violence.

Cameroonian opposition leader John Fru Ndi says the country needs a spiritual revival.

"The pope has come to preach and pray for Cameroon," said Fru Ndi. "We have a sort of moral decadence in our society which needs to be corrected."

The pope wraps up his week-long trip to Africa in Angola where he will meet with church leaders and diplomats before holding an open-air Mass Sunday in Luanda.

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