Pope Greeted With Cheers, Parties in Africa

Flags appeared, some people stood on pews and all clapped with their arms raised above their heads and their bodies swaying. As the pope left the church, made his way through the crowds to his Popemobile and slowly moved off, the faithful flooded out of the church to join the street party.

People in Yaounde seem genuinely enthusiastic and excited about Pope Benedict's visit here. The number of Catholics is rising steadily in Cameroon. Catholics are currently roughly 26 percent of the country's 18.2 million inhabitants, but the church is facing competition from increasingly popular evangelical movements and "the growing influence of superstitious forms of religion" that the pope mentioned in his speech to bishops.

Chrystele Assoh, a 25-year-old police officer attending a papal ceremony for the first time in her life, said she believes the country is especially blessed because it has received three papal visits.

Pope John Paul II, who visited 42 African countries during his 27-year papacy, stopped in Cameroon in 1986 and 1995.

"I will feel spiritually fulfilled seeing him," said Elizabeth Mbah who traveled hours from Buea to see the pope. She sees her trip to Yaounde as a pilgrimage and has been fasting for 40 days now awaiting the pope's arrival, but feels fine. In fact, she is exhilarated.

"Everyone in my hometown has asked me to bring them back the pope's blessing," she said.

No Controversy in Cameroon Over Pope's Condom Stance

Most Catholics in Yaounde I spoke to seemed to have no problem with the pope's comments on AIDS. Speaking to the press en route to Cameroon from Rome Tuesday, the pope said that condoms were not a solution and on the contrary increased the problem of AIDS.

Mbah, who works with women groups in parishes across the country, said, "Abstinence is the only way to stop the spread of AIDS. It works! We must first teach the children the importance of abstinence so that they abstain from premarital sex and then teach them the importance of fidelity in marriage."

Nigerian businessman Charles Noikwonfu, who traveled from southern Cameroon to see the pope, also said that "condoms are not a solution."

"They do not stop the spread of HIV," he said. "The only solution is a solid partnership."

President Hoping for Political Mileage From Pope Visit

Biya, Cameroon's president, is obviously hoping to get some political mileage from this visit. He is a former Catholic seminarian who likes to show his ties to the church.

The press information kit came with small plastic key chains -- a photo of Biya and the pope smiling together on one side and the words "Perfect Communion" alongside the Cameroon and Vatican flags on the other.

Billboards throughout the city echo the sentiment.

Biya is one of Africa's longest ruling strongmen. In power since 1982, he has often been accused of ruling the country using a combination of intimidation and corruption. Recently the human rights organization Amnesty International accused him of seeking to crush political opposition.

Many in Cameroon wish he would step down and not run for election again in 2011 as he is expected to announce soon. There doesn't seem to be much love for the president around Yaounde; some say bitterly he spends most of the year abroad, mostly in Switzerland.

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