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The dedication of a new Catholic cathedral in the city of Mongomo, Equatorial Guinea, on December 7, served as a symbol of the nation’s economic development and the vigorous religious life of a country where the church was once violently suppressed.
President Obiang Nguema Mbasogo dedicated the new Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Equatorial Guinea’s easternmost city. In his remarks, he reminded his countrymen of his government’s efforts to restore religious freedom as one of its first acts upon assuming power.
The previous regime had forced the “closure of churches and persecution of Christians, many of whom were forced into exile,” President Obiang said. “With our arrival, we proceeded to reopen all the churches closed by the former regime. We proceeded to release [political] prisoners, and ecclesiastical activity regained its vigor and normality.”
The event was held on the eve of the feast of the Immaculate Conception in the capital of Wele Nsas province, President Obiang’s birthplace. More than 1,000 guests attended the religious ceremony, including President Francois Bozize of the Central African Republic, papal envoy Francis Cardinal Arinze, and Antoinette Nguesso, wife of the President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The attractive new basilica, done in a variation of neoclassical style, is named for the Blessed Virgin Mary, the patron saint of Equatorial Guinea. It can hold up to 8,000 people and took nearly six years to construct. President Obiang presented the plan for the basilica to Pope Benedict XVI during a state visit to the Holy See in 2005 and laid the cornerstone on December 9, 2006.
President Obiang expressed the hope that Pope Benedict would visit the country and recalled the critical role Pope John Paul II played in promoting national healing and renewal during his eight-hour visit to Equatorial Guinea in 1982.
“The Pope arrived at the airport in Malabo, kissed the earth, and blessed our country with his hands raised,” President Obiang said. “The people turned out in such a way that he left with the idea that our country was where he was received with the greatest fervor.” The population of Equatorial Guinea is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic.
After the inaugural Mass, which was attended by five cardinals, 45 bishops, and some 300 priests from the central African sub-region, President Obiang and the Cardinal Arinze cut the ribbon, signifying the official opening of the basilica.