OUT OF AFRICA
A good deal of church news this coming week will deal with Pope Benedict XVI’s trip to Angola and the Cameroons, his first to the African continent. He left Rome this morning. Africa is a church of promise for us as it continues to grow in the number of Catholic Christians. Although the reach of Islam is also finding good footing in some of the African countries, the Pope is visiting former French and Portuguese colonial countries where the faith remains fairly strong.
I have been to Angola. I went there around 1990 as a member of the Board of Directors of Catholic Relief Services. The country was still involved in a civil war which had brought far too many deaths and I remember flying by a small private plane from the capitol city of Luanda to a near-by diocese. The pilot had to pass over the runway three times and look for possible planted mines on the dirt strip, and then feeling it safe we landed. Others were not so lucky and we visited several clinics run by the Church where children were being treated who were missing limbs simply because while they were playing with other children, they set off a mine. Angola had mines set by the Russians, the Cubans, the Namibians, the rebels, their own military and none left any maps of where these mines could be found. Sadly, children found them, and it was too late.
Comparative peace has come to Angola now and it is discovering that genuine peace-building can be as complicated, challenging and compelling as civil war (just ask the US military serving in Iraq about this). The bishops have been national leaders in the peace building effort. The greatest natural resource for this country is diamonds – lots of them and that is largely what the civil war was all about.
I remember Luanda as a very poor city with minimal services and sanitation. It may have changed in the nineteen years since I was there. I hope so.