Source: The Houston Chronicle
Wire Service: AP
Religion must reject violence, Pope Benedict XVI told Muslim leaders Thursday before celebrating an open-air Mass in front of thousands and delivering a message of hope for Africa's expanding, vibrant Catholic flock.
In Cameroon's capital of Yaounde, a clapping, swaying crowd of 40,000 welcomed Benedict to a sports stadium — his first occasion as pope to be among a great crowd of faithful on the continent that is witnessing the church's biggest growth.
In his homily, Benedict expressed compassion for African children being kidnapped and forced to fight by rebel groups trying to carve up parts of Africa.
"God loves you, he has not forgotten you," he said in a message to these children.
Child soldiers have been used by rebels in eastern Congo and by Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. An estimated 3,500 children are still with armed groups in Congo alone.
Earlier, the pope met with 22 representatives of Cameroon's sizable Muslim minority and noted that religion is the basis of human civilization. He also returned to one of the key themes of his papacy, saying there is no incompatibility between faith and reason.
"Genuine religion ... stands at the base of any authentically human culture," he said. "It rejects all forms of violence and totalitarianism: not only on principles of faith but also of right reason."
The pope said "religion and reason mutually reinforce one another" and urged Catholics and Muslims to work together "to build a civilization of love."