Nine persons were trampled to death, among them a 2-year-old boy and a 12-year-old girl, in an early morning rush to see Pope John Paul II today.
Attendants at Mama Yemo Hospital here said that another 72 persons were injured, some critically.
The pope apparently was not aware of the tragedy as he marked the third day of his 10-day African trip with an ordination mass for eight new African bishops and a firm appeal that they speak out against corruption and injustice. b
Sister Gertrude Koseck, a Polish nun who has worked here since 1939 and who was looking forward to a scheduled reunion with the pope and the Polish community here, gave a description of the incident from her bed at Ngaliema Hospital, where she was being treated for serious bruises and possible internal injuries.
"I arrived at the gate at the People's Palace at 5:15 because they said the gates would open at 5:30, but there already was a huge crowd," she said.
"I was right at the gate when they finally opened it at 6 o'clock. I was knocked down, another person on top of me and a third person above, but the crowd kept coming, climbing over us. I lost consciousness."
The nine fatalities were dead on arrival at the hospital, doctors said.
A half million people came to see the outdoor ordination mass, the major public event of the pope's program.
The pope arrived at the gate two hours after the panic and there were no signs that anything had occurred out of the ordinary. The pope gave no indication as the day progressed that he was aware of what had happened, but a member of the papal party later said that he had been informed of the incident in the late afternoon.
In his sermon at the ordination, he urged the eight new bishops to speak out against corruption and injustice, an exhortation that drew cheers from the crowd at the mass. The pontiff's remarks may have created some tension later in the day when he met privately with Zairian President Mobutu Sese Seko, whose government has been frequently accused of corruption.
The pope cited the ordinations as a "sign of the maturity and of the autonomy of these churches."