Pope Benedict Celebrates Mass Before Thousands on Final Day in Benin

Posted November 20th, 2011 at 10:35 am (UTC-5)
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Pope Benedict has celebrated mass before tens of thousands of jubilant Roman Catholics in Benin, closing out a three-day trip to the small West African nation.

A crowd of more than 50,000 faithful, many dressed in colorful robes and dresses, danced in praise at a stadium in Benin's largest city, Cotonou.

During the mass, the pope presented an Apostolic Exhortation, which he signed on Saturday. The document reflects recommendations from African church leaders who in 2009 studied the continent's challenges — including conflict, poverty and corruption.

On his first trip to Africa in 2009, the pope stirred controversy when he suggested to reporters that condoms aggravate the AIDS problem. This time, he largely avoided the topic, leaving the exhortation to declare that the disease is an ethical issue and should be resolved by abstinence and fidelity within marriage.

The pope also had a message of compassion for African leaders. He urged them not to rob their people of hope.

In a reference to corruption and good governance, Benedict told political and religious leaders at the presidential palace in Benin's commercial capital of Cotonou not to cut off the people “from their future by mutilating their present.”

Despite Benin's strong voodoo tradition, the Catholic population in the small West African country has surged to 30 percent in recent years.