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Pope Francis Holds Open-Air Mass in Uganda

  • VOA News

Pope Francis walks across a bridge toward the pulpit to celebrate Mass, in Namugongo, Uganda, Nov. 28, 2015.

Pope Francis walks across a bridge toward the pulpit to celebrate Mass, in Namugongo, Uganda, Nov. 28, 2015.

Enormous crowds greeted Pope Francis in Uganda on Saturday, as he delivered his first-ever Mass in the country during the second leg of his African tour.

The Mass was held at an open-air shrine in Namugongo that honors dozens of martyrs burned to death by a local king in the late 1800s for refusing to renounce their faith.

"Their faith sought the good of all people, including the very king who condemned them for their Christian beliefs. Their response was to meet hatred with love, and thus radiate the splendor of the gospel," said the pope, according to a transcript published by Vatican Radio.

Tens of thousands

Tens of thousands had camped out overnight at the facility in advance of the Mass, which is meant to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the martyrs' canonization. As he arrived, many broke out in cheers or in song.

The choir mixed Catholic hymns with traditional Ugandan songs throughout the event, in Namugongo, Uganda, Nov. 28, 2015.

The choir mixed Catholic hymns with traditional Ugandan songs throughout the event, in Namugongo, Uganda, Nov. 28, 2015.

​Later, the pontiff will hold a rally with young people, visit a charity, and meet with local religious leaders, as he continues the second day of his visit to Uganda.

On Friday, Pope Francis praised Uganda for its "outstanding" response in welcoming refugees from other parts of Africa.

"Here in East Africa, Uganda has shown outstanding concern for welcoming refugees, enabling them to rebuild their lives in security with a sense of dignity," the pontiff said after flying into the town of Entebbe Friday. "How we deal with them is a test of our humanity."

The U.N. refugee agency said Uganda hosts more than 500,000 refugees, most of whom have fled conflict and violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan.

Pope Francis drove a loop around the main stage, greeting fans on all sides, before celebrating Mass in Namugongo, Uganda, Nov. 28, 2015.

Pope Francis drove a loop around the main stage, greeting fans on all sides, before celebrating Mass in Namugongo, Uganda, Nov. 28, 2015.

Pope Francis also said the "world looks to Africa as the continent of hope," noting that his three-nation tour is aimed at drawing attention to Africa's "achievements and struggles."

Kenya visits

The pontiff flew to Uganda from Kenya, where he urged Kenyan youth to avoid tribalism and make the choice to listen and reach out to one another.

He spoke to tens of thousands of young Africans at Kenya's Ksarani Stadium Friday, addressing their concerns about violence and corruption with a call to them to pray, seek to understand, and cooperate with one another, rather than give in to the impulse to commit violence against one another.

The crowd of Ugandans excitedly greets Pope Francis as he makes his way toward them, in Namugongo, Nov. 28, 2015.

The crowd of Ugandans excitedly greets Pope Francis as he makes his way toward them, in Namugongo, Nov. 28, 2015.

He told his audience they have the power to choose: either the path of "difficulty and division," or the path of overcoming one's self-interest and one's difficulties.

Pope Francis spoke after a triumphant entrance to the stadium, standing and waving in his open-sided white vehicle -- the so-called "popemobile," as children and young adults greeted him with signs, cheers, and song. Members of the crowd blew horns, sang, and waved back, some flapping Kenyan flags in the air.

One fan carried a sign that read "Keep Calm and Welcome the Pope."

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