In Cameroon, the first stop on the pope's African trip, he was greeted with people dancing and singing, but the Angolans welcomed him in a different way. They cheered and engulfed him chaotically as he drove by wherever he went. As he left the airport on the day he arrived, his motorcade was suddenly surrounded by a swarm of cheering Angolans, many of whom ran alongside the pope mobile for miles as he drove past the crowds lining the route to the city center.
This is the second papal visit to Angola. Pope John Paul II visited in 1992 and traveled around the country for six days. Although statistics conflict, according to the Catholic Church, about 57 percent of the population of Angola is Catholic, one of the highest percentages in Africa. A former Portuguese colony before it became independent in 1975, it was evangelized by missionaries more than 500 years ago, and it is apparent that Catholicism has deep roots here now. The night we arrived, the street outside our hotel was blocked for almost an hour by a procession of thousands of people -- mostly women -- singing prayers and carrying candles as they walked to a prayer vigil that was held in a nearby church.
The 81-year-old pontiff, who stood up to the more than 90-degree temperatures in Luanda amazingly well, seemed genuinely moved by the warm response.
He ended his visit to Angola with a special meeting with women in a church in Hoji-ya-henda, a densely populated area on the outskirts of Luanda. A few Pope Benedict posters had been taped crookedly onto the walls along the dirt road that led to the simple, recently painted church that included a primary school and small infirmary complex.
People perched dangerously on walls and on top of trucks to get a glimpse of the pope arriving. Riot police dressed in black uniforms with helmets and shields stood about, along with policemen with dogs, and soldiers walked along the edge of the crowds in the sweltering heat. Crowd control consisted of a line of young scouts in uniform holding hands along the front of the gathering. They were used throughout the visit for this purpose.
A large, dignified crowd of Angolan women from various women's associations awaited the pope in front of the church. You could distinguish women from the different associations by the pattern of cloth they wore. Most belonged to the largest Angolan association for the promotion of women called Promaica, which has 71,000 members in Africa and is linked to the Catholic Church.
"The women are the true strength of this country," Sister Marlise Heckler, a Brazilian nun who has been working in Angola for 10 years now, told me. "There are many more women than men in Angola because so many men lost their lives in the war, and they have to put this country back together again." When I asked a group of women in the church what were the biggest problems for women in their country, they immediately said "domestic violence" and then added unemployment, hunger and illiteracy.
In his formal way, the pope tried to address their problems. But as he did throughout the trip, he spoke more about the Gospel than about their specific problems. He did stress, though, that discrimination against women "forms no part of God's plan."
I never got a chance to ask the women what they thought of the pope's words. They all listened in silence when he spoke: Some seemed awed, others seemed bored. We were whisked out of the church to our buses as soon as the pope left, but the women were still singing and waving the photos of Pope Benedict they'd been given as we pulled away.