- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 21, 2009

LUANDA, Angola | Pope Benedict XVI, welcomed to this sweltering capital Friday by the biggest crowd so far of his African pilgrimage, condemned sexual violence against women in Africa and chided those countries on the continent that have approved abortion.

Benedict arrived in Luanda on the second leg of his African tour, with tens of thousands people pouring into the streets along his motorcade route, honking car horns and slowing traffic to a crawl. Many of the faithful wore white T-shirts emblazoned with the pope’s picture and “Welcome to our land” written in Portuguese.

“I have come to see our papa because he is good for the church and the church is good to us,” said Fatima de Castro, a 52-year-old housekeeper who traveled 14 hours through the night to welcome the pope outside Luanda’s airport.

Angolan President Eduardo dos Santos greeted the 81-year-old Benedict as he descended from his chartered plane onto a red carpet under a tropical sun that reddened his face.

This former Portuguese colony is mainly Catholic, and Benedict lamented what he called strains on the traditional African family.

“Particularly disturbing is the crushing yoke of discrimination that women and girls so often endure, not to mention the unspeakable practice of sexual violence and exploitation, which causes such humiliation and trauma,” Benedict told an audience of government leaders and foreign diplomats in the late afternoon.

He also criticized the “irony of those who promote abortion as a form of ‘maternal’ health care.” The pope was referring to an African Union agreement signed by Angola and 44 other countries that abortion should be legal in cases of rape, incest or when the mother’s life is endangered.

“How disconcerting the claim that the termination of life is a matter of reproductive health,” Benedict said.

Angolans traditionally have large families - the president has nine children - but many say the high cost of living in this oil-rich country makes them want to have fewer children than previous generations.

Earlier in the weeklong trip, Benedict drew criticism from aid agencies and some European governments when he said 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.

Reporters were barred from the meeting, and the Vatican said it would complain to the Angolan government.

The pope arrived in Angola from Cameroon, where his visit was capped Friday morning by a meeting with about 15 pygmies who performed a traditional dance and presented him with a turtle. Vatican officials showed off the turtle in his wooden cage to reporters traveling on the papal plane and said the animal would be taken back with the pontiff to Vatican City.

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