More than a million people cheered Pope John Paul II during a triumphant motorcade here today that opened the pontiff's first visit to Africa as "messenger of peace."

"With all my African friends I hope that tomorrow each child of this continent can find nourishment of the body and nourishment of the spirit in a climate of justice, of security and of peace," he told President Mobutu Sese Seko in an airport welcoming ceremony. Then as a military band began to play and tribal dancers performed, hundreds of voices were raised in song and cheers.

Mobutu, long at odds with the church, although a baptized Catholic, offered a gesture of reconciliation prior to the pope's arrival. On Thursday evening, the 49-year-old Mobutu was married to his companion of years, Bobila Dawa, in Catholic ceremonies performed by Zairian Cardinal Joseph Malula.

Mobutu's disputes with the Church, begun in the mid-70s as part of a campaign to eliminate colonial influences from the country, have faded into the background in recent years.

Wearing a white cassock and skullcap and speaking in French, the pontiff told the airport crowd, "I know the attachment of a great number of Zairians to the Christian faith and to the Catholic Church, thanks to an evangelization that was carried out very rapidly [and whose] hundredth anniversary is currently taking place."

The reception at Ndjili Airport included a special salute for the pope from Poland. Uniformed school children and a military band serenaded him with "One Hundred Years," the traditional Polish birthday song.

The cheers and songs followed the pope into the heart of Kinshasa, along an 18-mile motorway lined by what appeared to be half the population of this African capital of the banks of the Congo River.

The pope used his first speeches here to set the theme for the 10-day mission that will take him to a total of six black African nations before returning to Rome on May 12. In addition to Zaire, he will visit the Congo Republic, Kenya, Ghana, Upper Volta and the Ivory Coast.

"Your church must deepen its local African dimension without ever forgetting its universal dimension" he said in an address at Notre Dame Cathedral to bishops, priests and other church workers.

He called on Roman Catholics, who already account for 46 percent of the population of Zaire, to carry evangelization to "sectors and groups where the gospel is still unknown."

Placing his call in the broader context of justice for all, he said he came to share with Africa "the hope that a new life, a better life and freer and more fraternal life is possible on this earth and that the church that I represent can contribute greatly to it."

During the seven-hour, 3,500-mile flight, the pope talked for about 40 minutes with reporters aboard his Alitalia DC10 charter, in a wide-ranging discussion about world politics and problems of the church he leads.

He appeared rested and in good health, his vigor supporting recent Vatican denials of reports in some Italian newspapers that he was suffering a serious health problem.

The pope told reporters that some African cultural practices, such as polygamy, are inconsistent with Christianity, but he said that "we must build up without destroying what is good." He said he would press African leaders on human rights and religious freedom.

"We always need to fear for world peace but the last few days have been particularly tense and dangerous," he said.

"We need to eliminate the causes of war and in the first place terrorism," he told the group of reporters.

He also spoke firmly against the taking of hostages in apparent reference to the 50 Americans still held in Iran and the diplomats, including a Vatican nuncio, recently released in Bogota, Colombia.

Commenting on the proposed boycott of this summer's Olympic Games in Moscow, he said athletes should act according to their consciences.

Zaire has the largest Catholic population on the continent. Mobutu, as part of his "authenticity" movement, nationalized Catholic schools in the 1970s and returned them -- reportedly bankrupt -- in 1977. Cardinal Bernardin Gantin of Benin, a member of the pope's entourage, said, "These problems have now been settled."