Page last updated at 14:36 GMT, Sunday, 22 March 2009

Pope Mass draws big Angola crowds


Crowds turn out to see the Pope near Angola's capital, Luanda

Hundreds of thousands of Angolans gathered to hear Pope Benedict XVI celebrate an open-air Mass, a day after a deadly stampede at another event.

Speaking to the biggest crowd of his week-long African visit, the Pope urged Africans to disperse the "clouds of evil" that had prompted years of war.

The "destructive power of civil strife" had dominated for too long, he said.

The service near the capital, Luanda, was the last major event of the Pope's seven-day Africa tour.

Addressing the crowds, the pontiff expressed his "deep sorrow" at the deaths of two women, crushed as crowds tried to get into a stadium where he was appearing on Saturday.

He also wished a speedy recovery to others hurt in the stampede.

Scorching day

Mass on Sunday was celebrated from atop a huge steel stage decorated with pink ribbons in a field which Vatican officials said could hold as many as two million people.

When God's law is ridiculed, despised, laughed at, the result can only be destruction and injustice
Pope Benedict

Many of the women wore pink sarongs bearing the face of the Pope and Jesus, while others had Pope Benedict's image emblazoned on their T-shirts and baseball caps.

The BBC's Louise Redvers in Luanda says security at Sunday's Mass was extremely tight, but people had still been pulled from the crowd and taken away on stretchers.

On a scorching day, the field gave little shelter from the sun and several people apparently suffered from heat stroke.

'Maelstrom of hatred'

The Pope was said to be "very upset" at the deaths of the two women and began Sunday's Mass by expressing his sadness.

The Pope in Popemobile in Luanda, 22/03
The pontiff was greeted by cheering crowds in Luanda

"I express my solidarity to their families and friends and my deep sorrow because this happened while they were coming to see me."

The pontiff then addressed the crowds about Angola's recent history, particularly the years of civil conflict that followed independence from Portugal in 1975.

He said the suffering of Angolans was shared by many across the continent.

"This experience is all too familiar to Africa as a whole - the destructive power of civil strife, the descent into a maelstrom of hatred and revenge, the squandering of the efforts of generations of good people," he said.

"When God's word... is neglected, and when God's law is ridiculed, despised, laughed at, the result can only be destruction and injustice."

Attack on corruption

Huge crowds have turned out at every opportunity to see Pope Benedict during his stay in Angola, where Catholics account for some 55% of the population.

On Saturday, the Pope urged Catholics in Angola to encourage people "living in fear of spirits" into the Church.

He said Catholics should reach out to those who believed in witchcraft and spirits.

Human rights groups say children in Angola have suffered abuse after being accused of possession by spirits.

Earlier on his trip, the Pope launched a powerful attack on corruption, which analysts say is rife in oil-rich Angola.

The Pope arrived in Angola from Cameroon on Friday.

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