- Pope Benedict XVI has announced yesterday that he would next year make his first papal pilgrimage to Cameroon and Angola, where Catholic Church is said to be growing rapidly.
Eighty-one year-old Pontiff reportedly gave surprise news at end of his homily in St. Peter's Basilica, during a ceremony closing three weeks of discussions by bishops from around world about Bible.
He however did not give specific dates for trip, which traditionally are first announced by local Church officials in host countries. Vatican usually gives details of papal pilgrimages closer to departure.
"Next March, I intend to go to Cameroon as part of preparations for an October 2009 bishops' meeting at Vatican dealing with Africa," Pope said at end of his homily.
He added that, "From there, God willing, I will go on to Angola, to celebrate solemnly 500th anniversary of evangelisation of that country."
Reports show that Catholic Church has been growing in parts of Africa and Asia, with those continents sometimes supplying priests for parishes in parts of Europe and North America where vocations have steadily declined in last few decades.
While Vatican has been concerned about the flagging faith of some Catholics in the affluent West, Church officials are heartened by the vibrancy of local churches in parts of Africa and Asia.
When Pope visits Cameroon, representatives of Africa's bishops' conferences will be meeting there to prepare for next year's Vatican synod on Africa.
Cameroon, formed in 1961 from western African territories governed by French and British, has an 18 million population that is about 40 percent Christian.
Angola's history as a former Portuguese colony has given country Christian roots. Southern African country was torn apart by a civil war that started with its 1975 independence and ended in 2002.
Since being elected Pontiff in 2005, Pope Benedict has visited several European countries, including France in September, his latest foreign trip. He has also traveled to Brazil, United States and Australia earlier this year.
His predecessor, Pope John Paul II, visited Africa several times in his 26 and half years as Pontiff.
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