Pope John Paul II received a resounding welcome from thousands of cheering Ivorians here today as he entered the final phase of his Africa tour and was praised by President Felix Houphouet-Boigny for speaking out on social issues.
The pope arrived in the Ivory Coast after a half-day visit to Ouagadougou in the Sahel state of Upper Volta.
The pope, wearing white robes and a white zucchetto, was greeted by a loud roar as he stepped from the Air Afrique DC10. In a gesture that has become his trademark, John Paul bent to kiss the red carpet that had been rolled out to the portable steps.
Walking slowly in front of Houphouet-Boigny, the pope stopped occasionally to wave to the excited crowd standing behind the presidential guard.
About 800,000 Catholics live in this west African country of 7.5 million people, with Moslems comprising 34 percent of the population and the rest following traditional African religions.
In opening remarks inside Abidjan's Port Bouet VIP lounge, Houphouet-Boigny congratulated the pope for his public stands on social issues. The president, 74, also touched on improving trade relations between the Third World and the industrialized West.
"We take great comfort in the face that the church is now speaking out on contemporary problems," Houphouet-Boigny told the pope. "She knows now how to speak loud and clear about defects of our society without risking being accused of appetites of conquests, except moral ones," he added.
Houphouet-Boigny, who is Catholic, also mentioned the late pope Paul VI's message several years ago to Western and Third World economists meeting in the Philippines. At that time, Houphouet-Boigny recalled pope Paul called on the Western industrialized countries to eliminate their trade imbalance with the underdeveloped Third World.
The Ivory Coast had been in good economic shape until recently, Houphouet-Boigny said. But this condition could be reversed unless "the detestable system of trade imbalances is eliminated."
"Your holiness will discover the misery that remains," Houphouet-Boigny continued, "but the spiritualness is there."
John Paul said both here and in Upper Volta that he saluted Christians and "all believers," a reference to the large Moslem community here and the predominance of animist believers in Upper Volta.
"I greet all believers, not only Christians, but also those who have in common with them the faith in a single and merciful God, who desire to submit their lives to the Almighty as in the case of the Islamic religion, or who are animated with religious sentiments according to their ancestoral tradition," the pope said in his address in Upper Volta.
"I also salute the experts, including the foreigners," the Pope said. About 60,000 French citizens live here.
After the ceremony, the pope mounted a white Land Rover with a platform and canopy and waved to the thousands of Ivorians who lined the route into the city waving the white and yellow Vatican flag. The pope celebrated a mass tonight at the Houphouet-Boigny Stadium in downtown Abidjan.
The Ivory Coast is the last stop in the pope's six-nation, 11-day African tour in which he has been greeted by hundreds of thousands of Africans, even in countries where Catholics are a minority.
In black Africa, both Catholic and Protestant forms of Christianity have spread tremendously in the past decade.