Pope Receives Enthusiastic Welcome In Angola

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Pope Benedict XVI is in Angola, the second leg of his first trip to Africa as pontiff. Islam is making inroads on the continent, but it's also home to an important Roman Catholic population. Saturday, he celebrated Mass with two goals: appealing to Catholics to become missionaries and converting those who believe in witchcraft.

JACKI LYDEN, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Jacki Lyden. Pope Benedict XVI is spending the weekend in Angola. It's the final leg of his first trip to Africa as head of the Catholic Church.

Today, the pope celebrated mass with two goals: appealing to Catholics to become missionaries and converting those who believe in witchcraft. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is on the line from Angola's capital, Luanda. Hello there, Ofeibea.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: Hi, greetings.

LYDEN: So tell me, Ofeibea, the pope actually spoke about sorcery?

QUIST-ARCTON: He did. He said that there are some people who are possessed by evil powers, which they take to be extent of accusing other people of being sorcerers, and this has led to the death of people in Africa.

And he said they target people like street-children and the elderly, who they brand as witches, and then people are fearful go to their homes, drive them out, isolate them and then sometimes even burn them.

LYDEN: Good heavens. Now you saw him at that mass and at a later rally with young people. How are Angolans reacting to the pope's visit there?

QUIST-ARCTON: Hugely enthusiastically, and that is men, women and especially the youth. As you said, the pope met young people at a rally, and they were - it was fully of emotion for him and emotion for them. They kept saying (speaking foreign language), long live the pope.

Welcome to Angola. They said the pope is our friend, and it was to this the pope was saying I am also your friend. You are the future of the Catholic Church.

And it's a message that goes down well. There were thousands of young people there. They were there in the sweltering heat for a couple of hours, but they were enthusiastic right to the last minute and listening to the pope, and he seemed to be listening to them as they exchanged messages.

LYDEN: Pope Benedict drew some criticism at the start of his African tour, Ofeibea, for comments about condoms. He said they weren't the answer to the HIV/AIDS crisis in Africa, and I understand that he has also been talking about abortion.

QUIST-ARCTON: Indeed. He condemned sexual violence against women and young girls in Africa, but at the same time, he chided many African countries that he said had approved abortion, and what he was speaking about specifically was an agreement by the African Union, signed by Angola and 44 other African countries, that abortion should be legal in certain, specific cases, that's rape, incest or when a mother's life is at risk or in danger because as you know, the Catholic Church says no to abortion full-stop.

Here on the continent, there are many people who support the pope. There are many people who feel that it's a wrong message for this continent in particular. You know, he said it's disconcerting, the claim that the termination of life is a matter of reproductive health.

So he feels very strongly about it, but then equally, many women on this continent feel that it is their decision to decide whether to terminate a pregnancy, not the pope's.

LYDEN: Ofeibea, we know the pope sees Africa as a crucial growth area for Catholics at a time when the number of Catholics is dropping in the West. What's the long-term impact of his trip to Africa, do you think?

QUIST-ARCTON: Here in Africa, a continent where Islam is growing, there are many Muslims, but specifically for the Catholics, it's the Evangelical, Protestant churches that seem to be giving competition to the Catholic Church.

A lot of young people feel that the Catholic Church perhaps is not relevant enough to them. They see it as a bit old-fashioned. But I have to say that here in Angola, with the thousands of young people that we saw in the stadium talking to the pope and responding to the pope, that does not appear to be the case.

LYDEN: NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, joining us from Angola's capital of Luanda. Thank you very much.

QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure.

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