- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 21, 2009

LUANDA, ANGOLA (AP) - Pope Benedict XVI appealed to the people of largely Catholic Angola on Saturday to reach out to and convert believers in witchcraft who feel threatened by “spirits” and “evil powers” of sorcery.

On his first pilgrimage to Africa, the pope drew on the more than 500 years of Roman Catholicism in Angola, saying that Christianity was a bridge between the local peoples and the Portuguese settlers.

“In today’s Angola, Catholics should offer the message of Christ to the many who live in the fear of spirits, of evil powers by whom they feel threatened, disoriented, even reaching the point of condemning street children and even the most elderly because _ they say _ they are sorcerers.”

In Africa, some churchgoing Catholics also follow traditional animist religions and consult medicine men and diviners who are condemned by the church. People accused of sorcery or of being possessed by evil powers sometimes are killed by fearful mobs.

Benedict counseled Catholics to “live peacefully” with animists and other nonbelievers “leaving with them these spirits that, without Christ, life is incomplete.”

He urged Angolans to be the “new missionaries” to bring people who believe in sorcery to Christ.

Eighty percent of Angola’s 16 million people are Christian, some 65 percent Catholic.

Benedict spoke at a Mass at the capital’s blue-domed St. Paul’s Church, where light streamed through stained glass windows onto veiled nuns and priests and bishops resplendent in white and lilac robes.

Before the Mass, Benedict was welcomed by a huge crowd.

Children screamed their excitement and held up cell phones to take photographs of the 81-year-old pontiff. Young girls prostrated themselves before him in a sea of pink veils.

People chanted and swayed to drumbeats and the rhythm of hymns in this tropical seaside capital. Many women wrapped their waists in cloth printed with photographs of the pope’s face.

The pope lovingly caressed the faces of children and sketched the cross on their foreheads.

Inside, veiled nuns and bishops resplendent in white robes with cerise belts and skull caps waited for Mass to be said by Benedict, who arrived in Luanda on Friday on the second leg of his tour of the continent with the fastest growing Catholic population in the world.

“This is a very emotional day for me, my first time to get a Papal blessing,” said Sister Iliria Olivera, from Oaxaca in Mexico, among hundreds of foreign missionaries in the church. Olivera for nine years has been working with her Sisters of the Divine Pastor, teaching children and running a maternal health clinic outside Luanda.

About 65 percent of Angolans are Catholic and Benedict has come to pay tribute to the land where the first Catholic convert in Africa was baptized in 1491.

On Friday, he lamented what he called strains on the traditional African family, condemning sexual violence against women and chiding countries that have approved abortion.

Earlier in the weeklong trip, Benedict drew criticism from aid agencies and some European governments when he said that condoms were not the answer to Africa’s severe AIDS epidemic, suggesting that sexual behavior was the issue.

In his remarks to diplomats, Benedict also called for a “conversion of hearts” to rid Angola and the rest of Africa of corruption.

Critics say last year’s elections, which were swept by President Eduardo Dos Santos’ party, were marred by fraud and corruption. Dos Santos has been in power for 30 years.

In his welcome speech after arriving from Cameroon on Friday, Benedict referred to Angola’s poverty as well as its rich natural resources, saying the multitude of poor Angolans must not be forgotten.

Angola is rich in diamonds and oil, but war and mismanagement have left most of its people in poverty.

He referred to his own childhood growing up in Nazi Germany, saying he had known war and national divisions and was keenly aware that dialogue was a way of overcoming “every form of conflict and tension and making every nation, including your own, into a house of peace and fraternity.”

Angola was lacerated by a civil war that started with its 1975 independence and ended in 2002. Its history as a former Portuguese colony has given the country Christian roots.

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AP correspondent Michelle Faul and reporter Casimiro Siona contributed to this report.

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