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Hard questions about Pope Benedict in Africa

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Benedict XVI said he came to Benin, a country of eight million in West Africa, to deliver a message of hope. Throughout the Nov. 18-20 trip, he repeatedly invoked the image of Africa as a "spiritual lung" for humanity, praising its deeply religious worldview and stressing that the joy, resilience and traditional moral values of Africa are precious gifts to the world.

It may seem counterintuitive that an 84-year-old German intellectual should be the Western leader most enthusiastic about Africa, yet it actually makes all the sense in the world. Spiritually speaking, Africa is a superpower -- both the world's largest manufacturer and consumer of religion. For a pope who has spent a lifetime lamenting the "death of God" in Europe, Africa can't help but seem an oasis of vibrant faith.

Africans seemed to return the sentiment.

Memo to bishops: Think globally on religious freedom

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During their fall meeting this week in Baltimore, the U.S. bishops heard a report from their new Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty, led by Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport, Conn. It's a measure of how seriously the bishops take the subject that the committee includes heavyweights such as Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington as well as Archbishops Charles Chaput of Philadelphia and Wilton Gregory of Atlanta.

Avoiding 'condom-gate' in Africa

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In two weeks Pope Benedict XVI will make his second visit to Africa, spending Nov. 18-20 in the West African nation of Benin. No one from the Vatican has asked me for advice on the trip, but I’m going to offer some here anyway.

In a nutshell, it’s this: Try to handle the condoms question more artfully. It would be nice if the pope’s second outing to Africa isn’t utterly capsized by the latest round of “condom-gate.”

To be concrete, I’ll volunteer three thoughts on a communications strategy.


  • Don’t pretend the pope can go to Africa and duck questions about condoms and AIDS, especially because he’s muddied the waters himself with some recent comments. But also don’t pretend that he can just toss off a few casual remarks without inviting a media frenzy.

  • Make sure whatever Benedict says is presented in a way, and at a time, that doesn’t overshadow other storylines about Africa that deserve to register in the West.

A papal contender grabs the spotlight

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Rome saw a striking coincidence this week, which could be either simple luck or a sign of things to come. There were two big-ticket Vatican news flashes, Monday's note on reform of the international economy and Thursday's summit of religious leaders in Assisi. In both cases, the same Vatican official was a prime mover: Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

'Black Sunday' for Christians in Egypt

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Somewhere down the line, historians may point to Sunday, Oct. 9, 2011, as the date when the Arab Spring began to give way to a deadly winter, especially for the Christians of the Middle East. On that date in a Cairo suburb, at least 25 people were killed and hundreds injured when bands of thugs and the Egyptian army attacked demonstrators, mainly Coptic Christians, protesting the burning of a Christian church in September.

Three things we learned from Benedict's Germany trip

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Last Sunday Pope Benedict XVI wrapped up a four-day trip to Germany, which, depending upon whose word you take, either generated “widespread acclaim” (Italian commentator Sandro Magister) or a national yawn (the Munich daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung’s headline was, “He came, he spoke, he disappointed.”)

This was the German pope’s third homecoming, though his first state visit, and the 21st foreign trip of his papacy.

A blessing for the Vatican in (really) deep disguise

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Pope Benedict XVI is in Germany at the moment, where last year’s sex abuse scandals brought his own record squarely into focus. That debate has flared up anew with a splashy public appeal by a New York based legal foundation, along with the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, to the International Criminal Court to prosecute the pope and other senior Vatican officials.

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July 4-17, 2014

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