LUANDA (Reuters) - Pope Benedict, at the end of his first trip to Africa as pontiff, urged the leaders of a continent afflicted by poverty and corruption to put the interests of their people first.
Standing beside Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, long-serving leader of one of Africa’s richest countries, the pope said: ”Our hearts cannot find peace while there are still brothers and sisters who suffer from lack of food, work, shelter or other fundamental goods.
“If I may be permitted to make one last appeal. I would ask that the just realization of the fundamental aspirations of the most needy peoples should be the principal concern of those in public office,” he said.
“Since their intention, I am sure, is to carry out the mission they have received not for themselves but for the sake of the common good,” he added, before boarding an Alitalia jet back to Rome.
The need to end corruption and share the wealth has been a recurring theme in the pope’s trip to Africa, which started last Tuesday in Cameroon and climaxed on Sunday with an open-air mass in the Angolan capital Luanda attended by a million people.
Many African countries, like Angola and Cameroon, are rich in natural resources but the majority of the population lives in poverty. Critics say senior officials use these resources to enrich themselves.
But the pope said the revenues obtained by the sale of these resources should be used to improve the lives of the people instead.
“The first challenge to be overcome is that of building solidarity between generations ... which should lead to an ever more equitable sharing of earth’s resources among people.”
The pope ended his speech expressing concern for the safety of countless refugees who have fled conflict-ridden countries in Africa, which has the world’s fastest growing Catholic population.
“I ask God to grant his protection and assistance to the countless refugees who have fled their country and are now at large, waiting to be able to return home,” he said.
Large numbers of refugees have fled fighting in countries including the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the pope made a specific appeal for peace on Sunday.
The pope’s trip to Angola was marred by the death of two women in a stampede to enter the stadium in central Luanda several hours before he presided at a youth rally on Saturday.
Angola’s government has invested billions of dollars to rebuild the oil-and-diamond rich nation after a 1975-2002 civil war, but it still ranks 158 out of 180 nations on Transparency International’s 2008 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Additional reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Charles Dick