Pope calls for African peace and reconciliation

Pope Benedict XVI waves to crowds in Benin's main city Cotonou on Saturday
Image caption Joyous crowds have followed the Pope throughout his visit

Pope Benedict has presented plans by the Roman Catholic church to encourage reconciliation in Africa, on the second day of his visit to the state of Benin.

The Pope travelled to the city of Ouidah, the heartland of the Voodoo religion, where called for respect for traditional beliefs but issued a warning against witchcraft.

Ouidah is home to one of the largest Catholic cathedrals in West Africa.

Earlier he denounced corruption when he spoke to political and church leaders.

Large crowds have greeted the Pope since he arrived in Benin on Friday.

His first public engagement was at the presidential palace in the economic capital, Cotonou.

In front of an audience of politicians, diplomats and church figures, he issued an appeal to Africa's leaders.

"Do not deprive your peoples of hope. Do not cut them off from their future," he said.

"There are too many scandals and injustices, too much corruption and greed, too many errors and lies, too much violence which leads to misery and to death," the Pope added.

The Church's reconciliation plans are contained in a 135-page formal apostolic exhortation entitled The Pledge for Africa (Africae Munus in Latin), which the Pope signed in Ouidah.

The document was drawn up two years ago at a meeting in Rome by Catholic bishops from all over Africa.

It is intended to encourage reconciliation, peace and justice - calling for good governance and the abolition of the death penalty and condemning abuse of women and children.

Pope Benedict reflected these themes in his address to the packed basilica in Ouidah, saying reconciliation was needed to overcome "the tensions, the acts of violence, the wars, the injustices and abuses of all sorts, new and old, which have marked this year".

He urged his audience to recognise elements of traditional cultures and religions to be recognised, if they are compatible with church teaching.

But he warned people to reject magic and witchcraft, which the Church condemns for what it believes is their negative effect on families and society.

The cathedral in Ouidah was built on land which was originally a Voodoo "sacred bush" - where offerings are made to the gods.

It now overlooks a temple where the snake-god is worshipped.

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Media captionThe BBC's David Willey says the Pope wants to deliver the message that Africa is a "continent of hope"

Voodoo is widely practised in Benin, where it has none of the negative connotations often associated with it in Western countries.

'Useless nationalism'

On the first day of his visit the pontiff spoke of avoiding "exacerbated and useless nationalism or tribalism" which he said could fuel deadly inter-religious tensions.

He also urged Africans to avoid the "unconditional surrender to the law of the market and finance".

"Modernity must not cause fear, but it cannot be built by forgetting the past," he said.

The Pope is likely to face questions about the Church's attitude to the use of condoms during his trip.

He caused controversy on a previous visit to Africa, in 2009, by saying that handing out condoms could speed up the spread of HIV.

Africa has the highest prevalence of the virus in the world and his comments angered Aids campaigners.

The Pledge for Africa concedes that Aids calls for a "medical and pharmaceutical response", but describes it as an "ethical problem".

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