Pope's visit to Angola marred by stampede

Sat Mar 21, 2009 7:32pm EDT
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By Philip Pullella

LUANDA (Reuters) - Pope Benedict, on a visit to Angola marred by a deadly stampede, on Saturday urged Angolan Catholics to shun witchcraft and woo back those who have left the Catholic church to join other religious groups.

Two teenage girls were killed and at least eight injured in the stampede to enter a stadium in downtown Luanda where Pope Benedict later presided at a youth rally, an official said.

Maria das Dores Celina, a nurse at Josina Machel Hospital, told Reuters the incident happened as thousands of people rushed to enter the venue before the Pope arrived. The two girls arrived dead at the hospital, she added.

The 81-year-old pope, showing signs of fatigue in the humid heat, also said a mass for several thousand people inside a church as thousands followed the service outside.

In his homily, he urged his listeners to reach out to those Angolans who believe in witchcraft and spirits.

"So many of them are living in fear of spirits, of malign and threatening powers. In their bewilderment they even end up condemning street children and the elderly as alleged sorcerers," he said.

Last year police rescued 40 children held in a house by two religious sects after their own families accused them of witchcraft. The sect leaders were later arrested.

Charismatic guerrilla leader Jonas Savimbi, for example, who led the opposition party UNITA in its war with the government, fought alongside a woman whose magic he believed would protect him from enemy fire.   Continued...

<p>Pope Benedict XVI greets people during his visit in Luanda, March 21, 2009. REUTERS/Osservatore Romano/Pool</p>