Image: Pope and Angola's president
Gianluigi Guercia  /  AFP-Getty Images
Pope Benedict XVI and Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos exchange good-byes Monday at the airport in Luanda.
updated 3/23/2009 3:23:40 PM ET 2009-03-23T19:23:40

Pope Benedict XVI on Monday left Africa with a final impassioned plea to corrupt leaders to let the poor share in some of the proceeds of the continent's natural resources.

The parting words followed a controversial first pilgrimage to the continent where the growing number of Catholics welcomed his ringing denunciations of corruption — while critics worldwide condemned his rejection of condoms to fight the AIDS epidemic.

"Our hearts cannot be at peace as long as there are brothers that suffer the lack of food, work, a house, and other fundamental goods," the 81-year-old said in his farewell speech at Luanda's airport before returning to Rome.

The pope bathed in a warm welcome from huge crowds during the seven-day visit to Angola and Cameroon, two countries with large Catholic populations and Catholic presidents.

The countries are rich in resources, including oil, but the countries' bishops accuse the authoritarian regimes of enriching a small elite while the vast majority remain mired in poverty.

'Grateful for all the advice'
Angolan President Eduardo dos Santos, who joined the pope at the airport, did not directly address the pope's comments. "We are very happy we had this opportunity to welcome you to our country and we are very grateful for all the advice that you have given to our people," he said.

During the pilgrimage, Benedict said Christianity could inspire hope among the desperately poor of the region.

But his rejection of the use of condoms to help Africa fight the AIDS epidemic provoked a firestorm of criticism, including from governments in France and Germany and European Union officials.

On the plane to Africa, Benedict said that distributing condoms was not the answer to the problem of AIDS. He said the best strategy was the church's efforts to promote sexual responsibility through abstinence and monogamy.

Despite the criticisms of his comments, his flock in Africa — the continent suffering most from the disease and where the church has seen its biggest growth in recent decades — turned out in the hundreds of thousands. Even clerics and those who believe condoms save lives turned out to see him.

Nelson Pestana, a political scientist at Luanda's Catholic University, said the pope had to be wary that his visit, sponsored by the state, is not used by dos Santos to legitimize his authoritarian rule.

The visit was "a win-win situation for both sides, but it remains to be seen how each side will use the capital gained by this greatly successful visit for their own ends," Pestana told The Associated Press.

Abortion issue raised
In Cameroon, Benedict praised a nation at peace, with Christians and Muslims coexisting, But Cameroon's relative stability comes under the corrupt and authoritarian regime of President Paul Biya, who has ruled 27 years through fraudulent elections.

Benedict also praised Cameroon for refusing to sign an African Union agreement to guarantee abortion for women who are victims of rape and incest or whose pregnancy endangers their lives.

In Luanda, the pope railed against the 45 African nations, including Angola, that did sign the abortion accord. That brought more criticism from abroad, including from aid agencies.

On a lighter note, before Benedict's plane landed in Rome on Monday, Vatican officials said it had been decided that a turtle given to the pope by pygmies in Cameroon would remain in Africa and not be brought back as previously planned.

More on: Pope Benedict   | Angola

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Photos: Papal visit to Africa

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  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
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