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Originally published Monday, January 26, 2009 at 5:50 AM

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Pope Benedict's Africa pilgrimage dates issued

Pope Benedict XVI will meet with Muslim representatives and women's rights advocates when he travels to Cameroon and Angola in March on his first papal trip to Africa, the Vatican said Monday.

VATICAN CITY —

Pope Benedict XVI will meet with Muslim representatives and women's rights advocates when he travels to Cameroon and Angola in March on his first papal trip to Africa, the Vatican said Monday.

The 81-year-old pope will travel to the two countries March 17-23, a Vatican statement said.

Benedict said months ago that he intended to go to Cameroon as part of preparations for an October 2009 bishops' meeting at the Vatican dealing with Africa. He said he would go from there to Angola to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the arrival of Christianity in that country.

According to the papal program released by the Vatican, Benedict will meet with local bishops, other Christians and Muslim representatives during the Cameroon leg.

In Angola, he will meet with Catholic movements promoting women's rights.

Benedict also will visit with the presidents of both countries, the Vatican said.

The Catholic Church has been growing in parts of Africa. The continent has seen a rise in the number of priests, sometimes supplying ones to parishes in parts of Europe and North America where vocations have steadily declined in the last few decades.

Since being elected pontiff in 2005, Benedict has visited several European countries and traveled to Brazil, the United States and Australia.

His predecessor, Pope John Paul II, visited Africa several times during his 26-year pontificate.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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