Pope Benedict XVI told Muslim leaders in Cameroon Thursday that true religion rejects violence.
In a closed-door meeting with 22 representatives of Cameroon’s Muslim community, Benedict said religion is the basis of human civilization, according to The Associated Press.
"Genuine religion ... stands at the base of any authentically human culture," he said. "It rejects all forms of violence and totalitarianism: not only on principles of faith but also of right reason."
He then urged Catholic and Muslims to work together “to build a civilization of love.”
Muslims make up about 22 percent of Cameroon’s population, while Roman Catholics comprise 27 percent of the Western African country’s people. Protestants account for 18 percent and animists make up about 27 percent of the country’s population.
Benedict lifted up Cameroon as a model of how Christians and Muslims can co-exist peacefully, praising it as “a beacon to other African nations.”
To the northwest, neighboring Nigeria has suffered from sectarian violence between Muslims and Christians. The country is nearly split evenly between a Muslim north and a Christian south with members of one religious group living as minorities where the other religion is dominant.
The pope expressed hope that Cameroon can show the “enormous potential of an inter-religious commitment to peace, justice and the common good” to other countries.
During his message to the crowd of 40,000 at a stadium in the capital of Yaounde, Benedict also offered comfort to child soldiers saying, “God loves you, he has not forgotten you.”
Earlier this week, Benedict told reporters aboard the papal plane heading to Cameron that distributing condoms is not the answer to fighting against HIV and AIDS. Instead, the Vatican encourages sexual abstinence to fight against the disease.
His comment, the first time he has explicitly spoken about condom use, has drawn criticism from France, Germany and the United Nations.
Benedict will fly to Angola on Friday for the second and final destination of his Africa tour.