POPE WELCOMED AT AIRPORT
BY JOHN THAVIS, CNS
ARRIVING in Angola on the second stage of his African pilgrimage, Pope Benedict encouraged the country to continue on the path of reconciliation after a devastating civil war.
The Pope said after landing at the airport last Friday that Angola must not forget its own poor as it recovers spiritually and economically from its 27year conflict.
“The multitude of Angolans who live below the threshold of absolute poverty must not be forgotten. Do not disappoint their expectations!” the Pope said.
Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos met the Pontiff as he disembarked from the Alitalia charter plane that brought him from Cameroon. When a young woman who was presenting the Pope with flowers lost her white cap, the Pope promptly put it back on her head.
Then the president led the Pontiff past a long line of dignitaries in torrid midday heat that brought handkerchiefs to many brows. The Pope did not appear to be bothered by the warm temperatures, and he smiled as a crowd cheered and ululated from the airport rooftops.
Angola, a former Portuguese colony that became independent in 1975, was evangelised by missionaries more than 500 years ago. Today about 57 per cent of the population are Catholic, one of the highest percentages in Africa.
Angola’s civil war lasted 27 years, ending with a peace agreement in 2002. The fighting between government forces and a rebel movement supported by the United States left an estimated 500,000 dead, 80,000 maimed and the country’s infrastructure shattered.
In his arrival speech the Pope said that as someone who grew up in Germany during World War II he under stood what war could do to a country and the need for moral and material rebuilding. He also referred to Germany’s postwar division, with oppression caused by “destructive ideologies”.
“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.
Addressing all Angolans, the Pope said the Church would do its part in the country’s recovery, and that it shared in the common mission of “building together a freer and more peaceful society, marked by greater solidarity”.
The Pope’s comments about not forgetting Angola’s impoverished sectors of the population touched on a sensitive topic. In recent years, Angola has emerged as an important supplier of crude oil, resulting in an economic boom that has created a growing rich-poor gap.
“Unfortunately, within the borders of Angola, there are still many poor people demanding that their rights be respected,” the Pope said. He emphasised that the whole of Angola needed to be involved in the country’s healing and revitalisation.
The Pope added a particular appeal on behalf of flood victims in southern Angola, where torrential rains left 20,000 people homeless a week before his arrival. He expressed his solidarity and his encouragement for their reconstruction efforts.
Mr dos Santos, who has been in power for 30 years, told the Pope that the entire country was looking forward to what he had to say during his visit.
He said his government’s goal was to build a “spiritually harmonious and tolerant nation, able to assume its responsibilities in defence of human dignity and honour, justice, solidarity, freedom and universal peace”. The Church should have a key role in this process, he said. Later that day the Pope paid a formal visit to Mr Dos Santos at the presidential palace, addressed foreign diplomats and met Angola’s bishops.