Image: Angolans welcome the pope
Christophe Simon  /  AFP - Getty Images
Angolans welcome Pope Benedict XVI on his arrival Friday in Luanda, on the third day of his six-day visit to Africa.
updated 3/20/2009 6:12:00 PM ET 2009-03-20T22:12:00

Pope Benedict XVI, welcomed to this sweltering capital Friday by the biggest crowds of his African pilgrimage, condemned sexual violence against women in Africa and chided those countries on the continent that have approved abortion.

Benedict arrived in Luanda on the second leg of his African tour, with tens of thousands pouring into the streets along his motorcade route, honking car horns and slowing traffic to a crawl. Many of the faithful wore white T-shirts emblazoned with the pope's picture and "Welcome to our land" written in Portuguese.

"I have come to see our papa because he is good for the church and the church is good to us," said Fatima de Castro, a 52-year-old housekeeper who traveled 14 hours through the night to welcome the pope outside Luanda's airport.

Angolan President Eduardo dos Santos greeted the 81-year-old Benedict as he descended from his chartered plane onto a red carpet under a tropical sun that reddened his face.

This former Portuguese colony is mainly Catholic and Benedict lamented what he called strains on the traditional African family.

"Particularly disturbing is the crushing yoke of discrimination that women and girls so often endure, not to mention the unspeakable practice of sexual violence and exploitation which causes such humiliation and trauma," Benedict told an audience of government leaders and foreign diplomats in the late afternoon.

He also criticized what he called the "irony of those who promote abortion as a form of 'maternal' health care." The pope was referring to an African Union agreement signed by Angola and 44 other countries that abortion should be legal in cases of rape, incest or when the mother's life is endangered.

"How disconcerting the claim that the termination of life is a matter of reproductive health," Benedict said.

Condom controversy
Angolans traditionally have large families — the president has nine children — but many say the high cost of living in this oil-rich country makes them want to have fewer children than previous generations.

Earlier in the weeklong trip, Benedict drew criticism from aid agencies and some European governments when he said that condoms were not the answer to Africa's severe AIDS epidemic, suggesting that sexual behavior was the issue.

Video: Pope urges Muslims to reject violence

Igor Rivas, a 25-year-old student studying economics, was in the crowd of thousands out to welcome the Catholic leader.

"I want the benediction of the pope. I know I am a sinner. I fight to abstain from sex," Rivas said. "I think condoms are not the good way for us. Though they may be useful, they are not the right choice for Catholics, so I need his blessing."

In his remarks to diplomats, Benedict also called for a "conversion of hearts" to rid Angola and the rest of Africa of corruption.

Reporters were barred from the meeting and the Vatican said it would complain with the Angolan government.

The pope arrived in Angola from Cameroon, where his visit was capped Friday morning by a meeting with about 15 pygmies who performed a traditional dance and presented him with a turtle. Vatican officials showed off the turtle in his wooden cage to reporters traveling in the papal plane and said the animal would be taken back with the pontiff to Vatican City.

Overcoming conflict
In remarks at the Luanda airport, Benedict referred to his own childhood growing up in Nazi Germany, saying he had known war and national divisions "as a result of inhuman and destructive ideologies, which, under the false appearance of dreams and illusions, caused the yoke of oppression to weigh down upon the people."

"You can therefore understand how keenly aware I am of dialogue as a way of overcoming every form of conflict and tension and making every nation, including your own, into a house of peace and fraternity," he said.

Angola was lacerated by a civil war that started with its 1975 independence and ended in 2002. Its history as a former Portuguese colony has given the country Christian roots and today about 8.6 million people, or more than 60 percent of the population, are Catholic.

"Christianity is not only a religion but a composite part of the Angolan identity," said Nelson Pestana, a political scientist who lectures at the Catholic University of Angola.


Dos Santos' party swept elections last year that critics say were marred by fraud and corruption. The victory has silenced many dissenting voices, including those of the church, Pestana said, adding that the pope should be careful that his visit does not appear to legitimize dos Santos' 30-year rule.

"The pope ... would influence the powers that be in Angola by drawing greater attention to the poor," he said. "But the regime wants a sort of papal benediction, so that its authoritarianism will not be seen as an absolute dictatorship but a symbolic enthronement as a divinely inspired power."

In his welcome speech, Benedict did, indeed, refer to Angola's poverty as well as its rich natural resources, saying the multitude of poor Angolans must not be forgotten.

Angola is rich in diamonds and oil, but war and mismanagement have left most of its people in poverty. Pestana says some of the country's bishops have spoken out in courageous pastoral letters condemning those who use the country's multibillion-dollar oil revenues for personal enrichment.

More on: Pope Benedict   |  AIDS

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Papal visit to Africa

loading photos...
  1. Pope Benedict XVI waves to the crowd as he arrives to celebrate Mass in Luanda, Angola, on Sunday, March 22. (Ciro Fusco / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A girl who fainted is carried through the crowd at a Mass celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday in Luanda, Angola. (Gianluigi Guercia / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. A Angolan soldier on horseback helps control the crowd after Pope Benedict XVI celebrated Mass on Sunday in Angola. (Schalk Van Zuydam / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Onlookers scale a small hill to try to catch a glimpse of Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday in Angola. The pontiff is on a six-day visit to Africa. (Christophe Simon / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Pope Benedict XVI arrives in a procession for Mass at the Cimangola open ground on the outskirts of Luanda, Angola, on Sunday. (Alessandro Bianchi / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. A girl reacts as Pope Benedict XVI arrives at a gathering for young people in the city of Luanda, Angola, on Saturday, March 21. (Schalk Van Zuydam / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Pope Benedict XVI meets with the faithful during his visit in Luanda, Angola, on Saturday. (L' Osservatore Romano / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Thousands gather in Luanda, Angola, Saturday, awaiting an appearance by Pope Benedict XVI. (Ciro Fusco / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Pope Benedict XVI watches Angolan dancers performing on the podium of Coqueiros stadium in Luanada on Saturday. (Christophe Simon / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Pope Benedict XVI (in background) looks on as some twenty people representing three generations of the pygmies people present a dance for him, before he leaves the nunciature for Angola. (Osservatore Romano / pool via EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Religious dignitaries wait for the arrival of Pope Benedict XVI at the airport in Yaounde where flew to Angola for the next stage of his African tour on March 20. (Issouf Sanogo / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Nuns from the St. John Community in Cameroon react as the plane carrying Pope Benedict XVI takes off, at the airport in Yaounde, Cameroonon on March 20. Pope Benedict XVI departed for Angola on the second leg of his first papal visit to Africa. (Rebecca Blackwell / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. A woman carrying bread rolls on her head walks past a poster of Pope Benedict XVI in Luanda, Angola on March 20. (Themba Hadebe / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Pope Benedict XVI is welcomed by Angolan president Jose Eduardo dos Santos as he arrives at Luanda International airport March 20. (Joao Relvas / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Priests traditionally dressed attend a mass given by Pope Benedict XVI at the Amadou Ahidjo stadium in Yaounde on March 19. Pope Benedict XVI held the first giant mass of his Africa tour. (Issouf Sanogo / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Pope Benedict XVI greets the faithful as he celebrates a Mass in the Amadou Ahidjo stadium, in Yaounde, Cameroon, Thursday, March 19. (Andrew Medichini / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. An African woman wears a cross outside of the Amadou Ahidjo stadium, where Pope Benedict XVI gave mass, in Yaounde on March 19. (Christophe Simon / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. A nun waits on the stands of the Amadou Ahidjo stadium for the arrival of Pope Benedict XVI to celebrates a mass, in Yaounde, Cameroon, Thursday, March 19. (Andrew Medichini / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Faithful rejoice as the sun bursts through dark thunder clouds during a heavy rain storm moments after Pope Benedict XVI arrived at the basilica to celebrate Vespers in Cameroon's capital Yaounde on March 18. (Finbarr O'reilly / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Pope Benedict XVI celebrates Vespers at the Mary Queen of Apostles Basilica in Yaounde, Cameroon on March 18. (Rebecca Blackwell / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Pope Benedict XVI leaves on his popemobile after he celebrated a Vesper ceremony in the "Marie Reigne des Apotres", basilica, in Yaounde , Cameroon on March 18. (Andrew Medichini / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Crowds cheer and wave to Pope Benedict XVI as he leaves the airport in Yaounde, Cameroon Tuesday, March 17. The pope arrived to begin his first trip to Africa, the fastest-growing region for the Roman Catholic church. (Rebecca Blackwell / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. An African clergyman kisses Pope Benedict XVI's ring at the airport in Yaounde, Cameroon Tuesday, March 17. (Rebecca Blackwell / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. A Cameroonian woman holds up a cloth patterned with portraits of Pope Benedict XVI and Cameroonian President Paul Biya at the airport in Yaounde on Tuesday, March 17. (Issouf Sanogo / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Pope Benedict XVI waves to the crowd upon his arrival at Younde airport on March 17, 2009, on the first day of a six-day visit in Africa. Pope Benedict XVI brought the "Christian message of hope" to Africa as he arrived in Cameroon today at the start of his first visit to the world's poorest continent as pontiff. AFP PHOTO/ CHRISTOPHE SIMON (Photo credit should read CHRISTOPHE SIMON/AFP/Getty Images) (Christophe Simon / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Sister Virginia Amena grins moments after Pope Benedict XVI shook her hand and gave her his blessing upon his arrival in Cameroon's capital Yaounde, Tuesday, March 17. The pope is seeking support for Africa during the world economic crisis, hoping to encourage peace and help tackle corruption. • Full story: NBC's George Lewis profiles Pfc. Joseph Anzack Jr., one of the missing soldiers who was killed by insurgents in Iraq. (Finbarr O'reilly / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  1. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  2. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  3. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  4. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments