ROME - Pope Benedict XVI left Rome for Cameroon, the first leg of a week-long trip to Africa that will also take the octogenarian pontiff to Angola.
In a courtesy telegram to Italian President Giorgio Napolitano on his departure yesterday, the Pope said he was "moved by the strong desire to meet my brothers in faith and the inhabitants of these dear nations".
The trip is Benedict's first as pontiff to Africa, and during his Sunday Angelus blessing he said he wanted to wrap his arms around the entire continent, with "its painful wounds, its enormous potential and hopes".
He also said he intended to "confirm the faith of Catholics, encourage Christians in their ecumenical engagement and transmit to all the announcement of peace given to the Church by Christ resurrected".
The pope, who will turn 82 on April 16, said last month he wanted 2009 to be the "Year of Africa".
His first stop in Yaounde, where he will stay until Friday, will include a meeting with the representatives of 52 African states preparing the October synod.
Benedict will also meet with representatives of the Muslim community and associations serving the handicapped.
Benedict will celebrate an open-air mass in Luanda on Sunday.
The trip is Benedict's 11th outside Italy in his four years as the head of the world's 1,1billion Catholic church. - Sapa-AFP