News Africa

Monday 18 March 2019

Papal trip ends in chaos as teens die in stadium crush

The Pope had to wipe his brow due to the intense heat.
The Pope had to wipe his brow due to the intense heat.
Thousands gathered for Mass celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI at Cimangola grounds in Luanda, Angola

RICHARD OWEN

POPE Benedict XVI's first trip to Africa ended in further controversy yesterday after the deaths of two teenage girls in a stadium stampede in Angola.

The Vatican said it had been told that up to 40 people were injured in the rush to enter the stadium about four hours before the Pope arrived on Saturday. More than 30,000 young people attended the rally, in a country where more than half the population is under 18.

In front of a million-strong crowd yesterday, the Pope said: "I would like to include a special message of remembrance at this Mass for the two young people who lost their lives while entering the Coqueiros Stadium. I offer my sympathies to their families and friends, and my deep sorrow, because they were coming to meet me. I pray for the wounded."

Overshadowed

The deaths marred the final days of the trip, much of which had been overshadowed by a row over the Pope's remarks on Aids before his arrival in Cameroon for the first leg of the tour.

He told reporters that condoms aggravated the continent's Aids crisis, sparking criticism from Western governments and charities.

Those hurt on Saturday were visited in hospital by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican's Secretary of State -- the Pope's right-hand man. Vatican officials said the Pope had not known about the deaths during the rally, which continued. The news was not released by the Angolan authorities until Saturday evening.

The disorder at the rally, with some spectators being carried off on stretchers because of the crush and the heat, raises the question of whether the Vatican could have contributed more funds to ensure crowd control.

The cost of a papal trip is borne by the Vatican and the host country, but in poorer nations the host government's contribution is lower.

Angolan police fielded 10,000 officers, but much of the security reportedly took the form of anti-terrorism measures such as sharpshooters and protection of the route taken by the Popemobile.

Yesterday, with high temperatures and humidity, state radio appealed to people to take food and water with them to the Mass, at which the 81-year-old Pope told the crowd that he deplored "the clouds of evil" over Africa which had produced war, ethnic rivalry and poverty.

More than half of Angolans adhere to Catholicism, which was introduced by Portuguese missionaries 500 years ago.

Evils in Africa had "reduced the poor to slavery and deprived future generations of the resources needed to create a more solid and just society," the Pope declared. "It is to preach this message of forgiveness, hope and new life in Christ that I have come to Africa."

He appeared fatigued by the heat, occasionally mopping his brow with a handkerchief.

Critics

Critics point out that the Church was allied with the colonisers who subjugated Angolans, many of whom were taken as slaves to Brazil

Angola gained independence from Portugal in 1975 but immediately plunged into a civil war, fuelled by a struggle for the country's oil and diamond wealth. The war is estimated to have cost 500,000 lives, including those of missionaries.

Jose Eduardo dos Santos, Angola's Marxist president for the past three decades, has moved away from communism and improved relations with the Church. However, his party's overwhelming victory in parliamentary elections last September was marred by allegations of fraud.

Earlier yesterday, in an address to local Catholic priests and nuns, the Pope urged them to "live peacefully" with animists and other non-believers but not to tolerate witchcraft and sorcery.

He said many Angolans "live in fear of spirits, of malign and threatening powers. In their bewilderment they end up even condemning street children and the elderly as alleged sorcerers." (© The Times, London)

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