The problem with first impressions, as the saying goes, is that you only get to make one.
As Pope Benedict XVI prepares for his African debut March 17-23, visiting Cameroon and Angola on his first swing through Catholicism's most dynamic "growth market," he faces a series of dilemmas:
- How to raise consciousness about the continent's travails without feeding African resentments that Westerners only report bad news;
- Signaling that despite his European baggage, the pope "gets" Africa — for example, that his crusade against a Western "dictatorship of relativism" is largely moot here, since the grass-roots reality is not secularism but rather vibrant religious pluralism;
- Keeping lines of communication open with his local hosts without glossing over a serious "democratic deficit" in their regimes;
- Encouraging the vibrancy of African Catholicism without turning a blind eye to its growing pains — including a sometimes shallow sense of Catholic identity and the lingering tug of tribal and regional divisions.