Africa

Pope celebrates stadium Mass as Africa tour ends

Pope in Cotonou
Image caption Large crowds greeted the pontiff at a football stadium in Cotonou

Pope Benedict has said an open-air Mass for tens of thousands of people as he wrapped up his three-day African tour.

The pontiff called for reconciliation as he addressed the Friendship Stadium in Cotonou, Benin's main city in the heartland of the Voodoo religion.

The 84-year-old handed over a document showing how doctrine in the Roman Catholic church could heal rifts.

The liturgy was delivered in at least 10 African languages and also broadcast in St Peter's Square, Vatican City.

Many in the crowd dressed in colourful robes emblazoned with the Pope's image, and some of those who had not made it inside, kneeled and prayed in the car park.

The Pontiff urged them "to be attentive to the cry of the poor, the weak and the outcast" as well as "those affected by Aids or other illnesses".

His spiritual vision for Africa - contained in a formal treatise - has been called a "papal road map" for the continent.

It applies doctrines like turning the other cheek and forgiveness to try to address the conflicts in Africa, such as those fuelled by ethnic divisions.

It also calls for good governance and the abolition of the death penalty, and condemns abuse of women and children.

The document was drawn up two years ago at a meeting in Rome by Catholic bishops from all over Africa.

Witchcraft warning

On Saturday, the second day of his visit to Benin, the Pope travelled to the city of Ouidah where he called for respect for traditional beliefs but also issued a warning against witchcraft.

Voodoo is widely practised in Benin, where it has none of the negative connotations often associated with it in Western countries.

The Pope's first public engagement on Friday was at the presidential palace in Cotonou, where he again issued an appeal for reconciliation in front of politicians, diplomats and Church figures.

The rise of Catholicism in Africa is in sharp contrast to Europe, which has seen a steep fall in the number of active faithful.

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