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Angola: Pope is greeted by the largest crowd of his African tour

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Pope Benedict XVI is welcomed in Luanda by the Angolan president José Eduardo dos Santos. Photo: Diário da África, used with permission

The climax of Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Angola was an open-air mass this Sunday, when nearly million people from various Angolan provinces and other African countries came to Luanda to hear the mass in Cimangola, on the outskirts of Luanda. Benedict XVI has been welcomed in Angola by the largest crowd of his first African tour, with many people coming from all over the country and abroad to be blessed by him on the traditional Sunday noon blessing. After the Mass, the pope was due to visit a women's rights centre in Luanda.

Helder de Souza [pt] is impressed by the Angolan people's display of faith:

Deve ser da presença do Papa em Luanda. A força e o entusiasmo do povo angolano manifestados durante a visita do Santo Padre impressionam-me. São aos milhares e milhares, pelas ruas dos percursos de Bento XVI, a manifestarem a sua alegria e o seu agradecimento pela visita. Mas impressiona-me também a capacidade de organização dos angolanos. As pessoas estão vestidas de branco, usam bonés com a efígie do Papa, escuteiros aos milhares vindos de todo o país, mulheres de todas as províncias, como que a quererem dizer que Angola agradece, na pessoa do apóstolo, a paz que está a viver.

It must be because the Pope's presence in Luanda. I am impressed by Angolan people's strength and enthusiasm shown during the Pope's visit. There are the thousands and thousands of people on the streets throughout Benedict XVI's route, expressing their joy and thanking him for his visit. I am also impressed by the capability of organization of Angolans. People are dressed up in white, wearing hats with the Pope's effigy, there are thousands of pilgrims from all over the country, women from all provinces, as if wanting to say that Angola expresses gratitude, to the apostle, for the peace that country has found.

There were, unfortunately, some tragic causalities. On Saturday, two people died and several were injured when a stamped broke out at a stadium where thousands of youngsters waited to listen to the Pope. There are reports of more people injured in another stampede when the pope arrived on Friday. Before the Sunday Mass, Benedict offered his condolences to their families.

In his messages addressed to the nation over the 3-day visit, the pontiff has spoken out against corruption, called on Angola to ease poverty, urged African leaders to allow greater press freedom, condemned abortion and sexual violence against women in Africa and urged Catholics to shun witchcraft, a belief that has spread in the country over the last few years. Hilcelia Falcão has followed the news:

Até agora, nada de novas polêmicas. E o clima tem sido de festa entre os angolanos neste segundo dia de visita de Bento XVI.

Depois da chegada, ontem, no aeroporto, com o povo espremido para disputar espaço na concorrida passagem de Ratzinger por Luanda, recebeu as boas vindas do presidente José Eduardo dos Santos e discursou pedindo justiça social e o fim da corrupção. Exortou angolanos, praticantes do animismo, a abandonarem a feitiçaria. E foi só.

Na agenda de cerimônias religiosas, houve missa na Igreja de São Paulo, onde foi ovacionado pelos fiéis. À tarde, foi a vez do encontro com os jovens no Estádio dos Coqueiros, com direito a empurra-empurra e muita gente passando mal.

So far, no new controversies. And there is a party mood among Angolan people in this second day of Benedict XVI's visit. After arriving yesterday at the airport, with people squeezing to see Ratzinger crossing Luanda, he was welcomed by President José Eduardo dos Santos and called on social justice and the end to corruption. He urged Angolans practitioners of animism to stop witchcraft. That was it. On the religious ceremonies agenda, there was a mass at the Church of Sao Paulo, where he was applaud by the faithful crowds. In the afternoon, it was the time to meet with young people in the Coqueiros Stadium, with a lot of pushing and people feeling unwell.

Preparations – Luanda is given a facelift

More than on the Pope's message itself, Angolan bloggers have been concerned with the make up given in record time to Luanda, just a few days before the arrival of the Pope. Afonso Loureiro takes pictures of the city behind the scenes and comments:

A torre que fica em frente ao antigo Hotel Katekero foi pintada de amarelo casca d’ovo e vermelho tijolo. Para receber o Papa, dizem. O contraste entre os dois edifícios é abissal, porque o hotel continua com o aspecto de que não vê obras de conservação há décadas. Parece que o Papa só precisa de ver o que está em frente e o Hotel fica fora de vista. É pena que sejam só obras de fachada.

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Image by Afonso Loureiro, used with the author's permission
The tower in front of the old Katekero Hotel has been painted egg-shell-yellow and brick-red. They say it is to welcome the Pope. The contrast between the two buildings is huge, as the hotel has still the appearance of a building which hasn't seen redecoration for decades. It seems that the Pope only needs to see the facade and the hotel is out of sight. It is unfortunate that it is all a front.

Helena Araújo [pt] comments on the piece of news that the Pope decided to celebrate mass in a part of the city which was not initially on the plan and therefore had not been looked after:

Arranjaram-se as ruas de Luanda por onde o Papa ia passar.
Pintaram-se as fachadas das casas – ou as traseiras, nos casos em que era essa a parte da casa que se via da rua.
Distribuiu-se água, para o Papa não ver pelas ruas pessoas com baldes de água à cabeça.

O clero, que “é esperto, e já é esperto há muitos anos”, como me contaram a rir, resolveu que a missa solene havia de ser feita num dos bairros degradados da cidade.

À luz destes acontecimentos, atrevam-se agora a dizer que a presença da Igreja Católica em África não é positiva…

The streets of Luanda where the Pope is to go through have been face-lifted.
The facades of the houses have been painted – or their back, in case it was the part of the house to be seen from the street.
Water has been distributed so that the Pope will not see people on the streets with buckets of water on their heads.
The clergy, “who has been smart for many years”, as I was told among giggles, decided that a solemn mass was to be celebrated in one of the slums of the city.

In light of these events, how dare you now to say that the presence of the Catholic Church in Africa is not good…

On the eve of Benedict XVI's arrival, the blogger at Menina de Angola [Girl from Angola, pt] also writes about how the Angolan capital has quickly changed:

“Se o trânsito de Luanda já é caótico normalmente, imagine com a Santidade por estas bandas. Várias ruas serão fechadas e todo o aparato de segurança vai estar de plantão. Dizem as más línguas que na ultima visita de um Papa em 1992, a guerra explodiu logo após a sua saída. Mas a gente sabe que isso é maldade do povo, não é?.

Enquanto a cidade se engalana para receber Bento XVI, outros bloguers nacionais vão deixando as suas opiniões acerca da igreja católica, nomeadamente em questões como a Sida e a presença do Papa na capital.”

“If the traffic in Luanda is usually chaotic, imagine with with the Holy Father around here. Several streets will be closed and the whole security apparatus will be on duty. Some people say that the last visit of a pope was in 1992, and the war broke out soon after his departure. But we know this is evil of the people to say that, don't we? While the city has been embellished to receive Pope Benedict XVI, other national bloggers start to pour in their opinions about the Catholic Church, particularly on issues such as AIDS and the presence of the Pope in the capital Luanda.

Regarding these issues, the blogger of the Parem o Mundo Quero Sair [Stop The World, I Want to Get Out] blog takes the opportunity to criticize some of the Vatican positions after very conservative remarks made by the Pope in the beginning of the trip that AIDS “cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which even aggravates the problems”:

“Na África subsaariana, cerca de 25 milhões de pessoas estão actualmente infectadas com o vírus do HIV – 70% do número total de doentes no mundo. O vírus afecta 5% da população adulta e já deixou órfãs cerca de 11 milhões de crianças, contudo este senhor resolve apregoar por terras africanas que o uso do preservativo agrava a propagação da doença. Para mim, a partir deste momento, o senhor Papa passa a ser responsável por umas quantas mortes que venham a acontecer futuramente, pois infelizmente, existem muitos católicos em terras africanas que não duvido, sigam à risca os conselhos de Sua Santidade”.

“In Sub Saharan Africa, there are about 25 million people currently infected with HIV – 70% of the total of patients worldwide. The virus affects 5% of adults and has left some 11 million children orphaned, however this Sir decides to spread the word through Africa that the use of condoms exacerbates the spread of the disease. In my opinion, as of now, Mr. Pope will be responsible for a few deaths that will happen in future, because unfortunately there are many Catholics in the African land that will undoubtedly follow strictly His Holiness’ advice.

Eugénio Costa Almeida writes about the fact that Luanda was the only Angolan city to welcome the Pope:

“Apesar de ser uma visita a convite do Presidente Eduardo dos Santos, vai recordar os 527 anos da evangelização de Angola e o facto de, Angola ter sido o primeiro país subsaariano a ser evangelizado. Ora se o assunto principal é a celebração da evangelização porque é que o Papa só fica por Luanda e não se desloca a Mbanza Congo, a capital do Reino do Congo, cidade onde se iniciou a evangelização do território que deu Angola? Tal como não vai ao Santuário da Nª Senhora da Muxima nem ao da Senhora do Monte, no Lubango. E já nem falo a outras partes do país. Parece que continua a haver quem ache que Angola é só Luanda e o resto é só beleza paisagística e faunística ou coutada de minas…

Porque só saindo das capitais o Papa Bento XVI poderá fazer jus à visita papal: “Abraçar África nas suas Mil Diferenças”.

“Despite the fact that this is an invitation of President Eduardo dos Santos, [the Pope] will remember the 527 years of evangelicalism of Angola and the fact that Angola was the first African Sub-Saharan country to be evangelized. But if the heart of matter is a celebration of the evangelicalism, why will the Pope only come to Luanda and not go to Mbanza Congo, the capital of the Kingdom of Congo, where the evangelicalism of the area that gave way to Angola began? He is neither going to the Shrine of Our Lady of Muxima or the Lady of Monte in Lubango. And I don't even mention other parts of the country. It seems that there are still people who think that Angola is Luanda only and the rest are just beautiful fauna and landscapes, or mine-filled… because only out of the capital the Pope can do justice to the papal visit: “Embracing Africa in its thousands Differences.”

Regarding these issues, Vatican representative D. Angelo Becciu answered: “We need to understand that the Pope is old and can not go to other provinces in the country”.

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Image by Afonso Loureiro, used with the author's permission

After visiting Cameroom, Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Luanda on Friday March 20th for a 3-day visit ending his first African tour. He will return to Rome tomorrow morning. This was the first papal visit to Angola since 1992, when his predecessor John Paul II came and asked for the end of the civil war (1975-2002). Over 60% of Angolans are believed to be Catholic, a religion introduced in the country by Portuguese missionaries in the 16th century.

Paula Góes has collaborated with and translated this post.

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