Listen to this story:
YAOUNDÈ, Cameroon – Recalling Pope emeritus Benedict XVI as a leader who promoted the growth of the church on their continent, and who also affirmed its strongly traditional stances on faith and morals, African prelates are hailing the late pontiff as a friend.
In comments to Crux, Bishop Mathew Hassan Kukah of Sokoto in northeastern Nigeria said the late pope “expanded the pastoral map of Africa” through his appointments of cardinals, archbishops and bishops.
Kukah, widely considered one of the leading intellectual lights of the African episcopacy, noted that he himself was made a bishop by Benedict XVI.
“He created new dioceses. Under him, an African diplomat, Archbishop Fortunatus Nwachukwu [of Nigeria], became the Vatican Chief of Protocol, not to mention many more who became nuncios,” Kukah said.
The Nigerian prelate also recalled that Benedict XVI summoned a second Synod of Bishops for Africa in 2009, an event in which Kukah himself participated.
Bishop Michael Bibi of Buea in Cameroon’s southwest region told Crux that Pope Benedict had “a special concern for evangelization in Africa,” pointing to the synod he called under the theme “The Church in Africa in Service to Reconciliation, Justice and Peace.”
Bibi said Benedict believed in the growth of the Church in Africa and published the exhortation “Africae Munus, calling on Africa to renew herself in the task or commitment in evangelization.”
Bibi also recalled that during his 2009 flight to Cameroon, Benedict XVI was asked by journalists about the fight against HIV/AIDS, since the Church does not promote the spread of contraceptives.
“His stance was to encourage the Church in Africa in teaching the dignity of sexuality, rather than promoting promiscuity through contraceptives which falsely promote the idea of ‘safe sex’,” Bibi said.
“Abstinence and fidelity are the main ways to combat HIV, and also the adequate pastoral care of those already afflicted by the pandemic,” Bibi told Crux.
He said Cameroon will remember the late pope for a variety of reasons, including his visits to the country both as cardinal and as pope.
“As Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, he was part of the delegation that came with Pope John Paul II to Cameroon in 1995 for the signing of the post-synodal document Ecclesia in Africa,” Bibi told Crux.
As Pope, Benedict returned to Cameroon in 2009 to present the working document of the second African synod.
Kukah also remembered Benedict XVI as a great proponent of inter-religious dialogue, noting the irony that it was a Muslim family friend who first sent him condolences on the death of the late pontiff.
“Despite the initial bump on the road after his Regensburg speech in 2006, he did a lot for dialogue with Islam,” Kukah told Crux. The reference was to a speech Pope Benedict delivered in his native Bavaria which causes protest across the Muslim world when he quoted a 14th century Byzantine emperor who linked Islam with violence.
“Together with the King of Saudi Arabia, the Government of Austria and Spain, they set up the King Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious Dialogue, which was based in Vienna but now moved to Lisbon, and for which I have served on the Advisory Council since 2006,” Kukah said.
Describing the late Pontiff as “a pope of dialogue,” Bibi said Benedict “reached out to religious leaders for dialogue, [including] condemning the Holocaust of the Jews by Nazi Germany. He pointed out the wrong in radical patterns like Islamic extremists that try to promote worship of God by violence.”
“He made an opening for Anglican priests to convert to Catholicism, without losing their clerical status,” Kukah said.
Kukah also praised Benedict’s decision to widen permission for celebration of the older Latin Mass, saying it “greatly improved reverence in worship,” even though that measure has largely been rolled back by Pope Francis.
The Nigerian prelate praised Benedict’s contributions as a theologian.
“African theologians ought to derive inspiration from his prodigious intellect and very simple, readable theology. Right now, I am re-reading Jesus of Nazareth,” Kukah told Crux.
“He will be missed. He foretold the collapse of the citadels of economic arrogance when he wrote Deus Caritas Est and Caritas in Veritate and offered a moral compass for a new world,” Kukah said.
“He was a great man, his thinking and writings shaped the Catholic world,” he said.
Bibi praised Benedict’s critique of secularism.
“The world currently advocates a lot of relativism,” Bibi said. “But this is destructive in human formation and also in ethics, and in the social order.”
Bibi said his initial reaction to the news of the pope’s demise was “gratitude to God for a life well lived,” and “deep appreciation for the ministry of someone who has served the Church for this long.”
“The world has lost a great pastor and theologian,” Bibi said.