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The Rev. Andre Quenum, the publisher of main Catholic weekly in Benin, says Africans have been particularly drawn to the church’s teachings because of the that poverty and violence that have wracked the continent.

“One of the consequences of modernity in Europe is that people have been able to solve many of the problems of daily life. If you fall sick you can go to a clinic,” he said. “Here when you get sick, you could very well die. So we put our problems in God’s hands,” he said. “And this is where the pope has seen our potential.”

To prepare for the pope’s visit, parishes throughout the country were given a special prayer asking for reconciliation.

“Our Father, you have created man and woman in your image,” says the text of the prayer. “But they distance themselves from you by their tribal divisions, their violence, their wars. May the visit of Pope Benedict XVI create in us the desire to reconcile ourselves.”

The government of Benin also issued public service announcements encouraging people to clean up the city ahead of the pope’s arrival. One billboard showed a picture of the pope, next to three suggestions: Sweep your street, pick up garbage and repaint your house. On state television, an entire segment was dedicated to showing how a local church had revarnished their pews.

In Ouidah, nuns were working around the clock putting the finishing touches on the chapel housing the tomb of a cardinal that was a personal friend of Benedict’s. The pontiff is expected to pray there on Saturday. On the tiled floor was a pile of pastel-colored bows, the kind you might use to decorate a present. The nuns were instead taping the pink bows to each of the chapel’s columns.


Associated Press writer Nicole Winfield in Rome contributed to this report.