Bags packed, 41 speeches ready, his pronunciation of Swahili, Kirundi and Kinyarwanda polished with the help of tutors, Pope John Paul II ends a quiet and sedentary summer here Saturday.
On the road again.
Like a salesman canvassing a rich new territory, the 70-year-old pontiff is returning for the second time this year to Africa, where the Roman Catholic Church is growing even faster than the continent’s mushrooming population.
The arduous 10-day journey will take him to the dirt-poor, AIDS-assaulted East African nations of Tanzania, Burundi and Rwanda and then to the troubled Ivory Coast in West Africa.
There, John Paul will accept the gift of a St. Peter’s-sized basilica from a patriarch-president who rebuts widespread corruption charges by insisting that he built the $200-million church with his own money on family land.
The Pope’s aides say the papal themes during this trip will mirror those voiced in a January visit to five equally poor West African nations. By his very presence, the Pope will remind wealthier nations that a desperately poor continent of 610 million people needs more help to confront its social and economic problems.
The developed nations, John Paul warned in January, “cannot abandon their common and current responsibilities for the south, for the problems of the Third World.”
In East Africa, where fledgling health systems are strained to the breaking point by AIDS, the Pope will appeal anew for compassion for sufferers of the disease and greater education to check its spread, Vatican aides said.
This last foreign trip of 1990, the 49th of his reign, will mark John Paul’s seventh visit to a teeming continent where Catholicism has grown by 50% in the last decade, to more than 80 million African Catholics.
Amid the continent’s growing religious fervor and nearly universal deprivation, most Africans live under dictatorships. Tanzania has been a one-party state for all of its 26 years of independence. John Paul may use it as a forum to call for democracy.
By contrast, the mostly Catholic neighboring countries of Burundi and Rwanda are torn by violent tribal rivalries, which may invite a papal lecture on fraternity.
In a return visit to the Ivory Coast, John Paul will stop only at Yamoussoukro, the new capital and hometown of 85-year-old President Felix Houphouet-Boigny. There, he will meet with clerics planning a 1993 synod of Africa’s 487 bishops. And he will consecrate the new Our Lady of Peace basilica.
The air-conditioned church, framed by 128 Doric columns enclosing a piazza larger than St. Peter’s, is crowned by a 525-foot dome, the tallest in the world.
Local critics, including 127 university professors arrested earlier this year for demonstrating against government corruption, call the church Houphouet-Boigny’s white elephant monument to himself in a nation of 10 million where most people exist at subsistence level.
Houphouet-Boigny offered it to an embarrassed Vatican last year. After he promised to build an adjoining hospital and social services center, John Paul accepted the gift and responsibility for maintaining it. To have rejected it, Vatican officials say, might have alienated vigorous Catholic communities across Africa.
THE POPE’S 7TH AFRICAN JOURNEY 1. Sept. 1-5: Tanzania 2. Sept. 5-7: Burundi 3. Sept. 7-9: Rwanda 4. Sept. 9-10: Ivory Coast