Pope headed to Africa next spring

It’s official — Pope Benedict XVI plans to make his first trip to Africa next March, visiting Cameroon and Angola.

The pope announced the trip at Sunday’s closing Mass for the Synod of Bishops on the Bible. He also confirmed plans to hold the second special Synod of Bishops for Africa at the Vatican in October 2009.

The pope said he will hand-deliver the African synod’s Instrumentum Laboris, or working document, when he travels to Cameroon in March to meet with representatives from African bishops’ conferences.

The 2009 synod theme will be “The Church in Africa at the Service of Reconciliation, Justice and Peace.”  The first African synod took place at the Vatican in 1994. Ten years later, Pope John Paul II said another synod would be held to allow church leaders to address the continent’s changing religious, demographic, social and political scenes.

Pope Benedict said he would go from Cameroon to Angola, where he will celebrate the 500th anniversary of that country’s evangelization.

For months, rumors have been percolating around the Vatican of a papal trip to Africa, a continent that has not hosted a pope since 1998.  In October, the Vatican’s advance team traveled to Africa to firm up plans, according to sources.

At present, it’s the only foreign trip on the pope’s calendar next year. With the synod to follow, it looks like 2009 with be a year of Africa for the church.

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