AFP - Pope Benedict XVI urged Angola's oil-rich government to do more to fight poverty as he arrived Friday on the last stop of an African tour overshadowed by his rejection of condoms in AIDS prevention.
Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos greeted him at Luanda airport, where singing and dancing crowds gathered outside the terminal to welcome him.
Speaking from the tarmac under a scorching sun, the 81-year-old pontiff called on Angola to ease poverty in a nation where two-thirds of the population live on less than two dollars a day.
"Unfortunately, within the borders of Angola, there are still many poor people demanding that their rights be respected," the pope said.
"The multitude of Angolans who live below the threshold of absolute poverty must not be forgotten. Do not disappoint their expectations."
"You must take from your spiritual and cultural heritage the best values that Angola possesses, and go out to meet one another fearlessly, agreeing to share personal resources, both spiritual and material, for the good of all," he said.
"Do not yield to the law of the strongest," he added.
Thousands of people began gathering at the airport from dawn, many of them women dressed in brightly-coloured headscarves and sarongs, with a white t-shirt showing the name of their church.
They carried banners saying "Welcome Pope Benedict" and "Bless our country", and many ran alongside his motorcade as it rolled towards the city.
Security around the airport was tight, with very restricted access to the building. International flights were put on hold to allow the pope to fly into Angola and armed police officers and soldiers watched the crowds, which were kept about half a kilometre from the building.
"I was one of the first to get here at 6:00 am because I wanted to get a good place so I can see Pope Benedict when he drives past," Adriana Juliao, 24, told AFP. "It means so much to us that the pope is coming here to Angola."
Sister Isabel Benjamin, a 43-year-old missionary, said she hoped Benedict's visit would help cement Angola's peace.
"Before Angola was a war country and now we're experiencing peace and the Pope coming here is really a very exciting moment for us... and I hope by the pope coming he will bring us a lasting peace."
One man held his infant daughter up so she could see Benedict, making the first papal visit to Angola since 1992, when his predecessor John Paul II came during a brief lull in the decades of war here.
"I have brought my daughter today. She's just one year old and I hope she'll have this memory of being here for many years to come," he said.
"I remember the visit of John Paul II and I came here to the airport to see him then, and now 17 years later I’m here to see Pope Benedict. If another pope comes to Angola, I will be here to see him," he added.
Around half of Angola's 16.5 million people are Catholic.
Since Angola's civil war ended in 2002, the country's economy has boomed due to the enormous growth in oil exports, but the majority of the population still lives in abject poverty.
Benedict is making his inaugural journey to Africa as pope, but his trip has been overshadowed by remarks made en route to Cameroon, when he said that AIDS "cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which even aggravates the problems."
The comments sparked an uproar among AIDS activists as well as some governments, who warned that the pope's remarks could harm prevention campaigns.