March 22, 2009 in Nation/World

Pope’s Angola visit marred by stampede

Victor L. Simpson Associated Press
 

LUANDA, Angola – Tens of thousands of Angola’s Catholics lined the streets of the capital Saturday for a blessing from Pope Benedict XVI, who urged the country’s faithful to reach out and convert people who believe in witchcraft.

But a stampede at a stadium before one of the pope’s speeches left two people dead and others injured.

“The pope is very upset,” a Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said late Saturday.

The stampede broke out as the gates to Coqueiros stadium opened hours before Benedict arrived, Lombardi said.

Portuguese news agency LUSA cited an unidentified source at a local hospital as saying a man and a woman were killed, eight others were hospitalized with minor injuries, and 10 were given medical assistance at the site.

An Associated Press reporter saw another stampede break out when the pope arrived, and at least 20 people were taken away in ambulances.

The 81-year-old pontiff, wearing white robes, looked tired and moved slowly in the tropical heat during the stadium appearance before some 30,000 people in late afternoon. He gave a message of hope to young people, including some wounded and maimed during Angola’s long civil war that started with Angola’s 1975 independence from Portugal and ended in 2002.

In the morning, Benedict attracted thousands onto the streets every time his motorcade passed and delighted the crowds by speaking in Portuguese.

Drawing on the more than 500 years of Roman Catholicism in Angola, he called Christianity a bridge between the local peoples and the Portuguese settlers. Eighty percent of the 16 million people are Christian, about 65 percent Catholic.

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