LUANDA, Angola – Pope Benedict XVI, welcomed to this sweltering capital Friday by the biggest crowds 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 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.
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.
He also criticized what he called 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 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.
Reporters were barred from the meeting, and the Vatican said it would complain with the Angolan government.
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, and today about 8.6 million people, or more than 60 percent of the population, are Catholic.
“Christianity is not only a religion but a composite part of the Angolan identity,” said Nelson Pestana, a political scientist who lectures at the Catholic University of Angola.