Pope Benedict XVI ends visit to Africa

March 23, 2009 6:54:56 AM PDT
Pope Benedict XVI made one final appeal Monday at the close of his African pilgrimage, urging more solidarity among nations and continents so that the Earth's resources are more equally shared with the world's poor.In his airport departure speech, the pontiff also urged Angola's leaders to make "the fundamental aspirations of the most needy people" their main concern.

"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 pontiff said, standing in sweltering heat under a canopy near the chartered Alitalia plane that later flew him back to Rome.

Benedict also delivered a blessing for Angola's people as he wrapped up a seven-day African pilgrimage, his first to the continent as pontiff. He visited Cameroon and Angola, each with large Catholic populations.

The pope spoke out strongly against corruption during the visit, urging that African's poor not be forgotten.

Both Angola and Cameroon are rich in resources, including oil, but the countries' bishops accuse their presidents' authoritarian regimes of using those resources to enrich a small elite while the vast majority remain mired in poverty. Both nations have Catholic presidents.

If Angolan President Eduardo dos Santos sensed any criticism in the pope's remarks, he did not show it Monday. At the airport, dos Santos said the people of Angola were thankful for "the love we always get from the Vatican, which provides us strength and helps us promote democracy and justice."

"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.

All during his journey, Benedict held out Christianity's message as a way to inspire hope in the region's desperately poor people. But his rejection of the use of condoms to help Africa fight the AIDS epidemic provoked a firestorm of criticism.

Still, his flock in Africa ? the continent suffering most from the disease ? greeted the pope with joy and love, turning out in the hundreds of thousands. Even clerics and ordinary people who believe that condoms must be used to save lives turned out to see him.

"He has come to our land, in a good moment of peace and brought joy to his people ? increasing our pride and our hope in a future with more justice and reconciliation," said Angolan Matilde Ngola, a 41-year-old member of the Congregation of Sisters of Charity.

As the pope climbed the steps of the Boeing-777 for the 3,500-mile (5,600-kilometer) flight back to Italy, a military band at the airport switched from hymns to a rousing version of "Auld Lang Syne" in farewell to the Catholic leader. The pope waved a final goodbye.

Along the airport route, thousands of Angolans ? taking advantage of the national holiday that was declared for the duration of the papal visit ? waved colored handkerchiefs at Benedict as he slowly passed by in his popemobile.

During his public appearances, which included an outdoor Mass attended by 1 million Angolans, Benedict suggested that Christianity could help Africans break through the "clouds of evil" over countries riven by war, tribalism and ethnic rivalry.

"(The church can help Africans) transform this continent, freeing the people from the whip of greed, violence and disorder" to help bring modern democracy, he said.

Angolan diplomat Armindo de Espirito Santo, on the tarmac to bid Benedict farewell, said the pope's visit would have long-lasting implications.

"(It) helps our country in our continued reconstruction and reconciliation," he said, referring to Angola's nearly 30 years of civil war that only ended seven years ago.

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