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Pope honors martyred Ugandan Christians on Africa tour

Pope Francis has celebrated a Mass near the Ugandan capital attended by tens of thousands of Catholic faithful. The service took place on the site where a number of Christians were burnt alive in the 19th century.

The pope, who is on his first tour of Africa, called on the faithful to follow the example of 22 Catholic and 23 Anglican martyrs who were killed between 1885 and 1887 on the orders of a local king opposed to the spread of Christianity.

More than 100,000 of the people at the Mass had waited since before dawn to attend.

The 78-year-old pope's visit to Uganda, during which he has met with President Yoweri Museveni and visting South Sudanese President Salva Kiir, is partly to mark the 50th anniversary of the canonization of the Catholic martyrs.

The majority of the Christians were burnt alive at the site where the Mass was held in Namugongo, outside the capital, Kampala. The area houses a shrine to the Catholic martyrs and an Anglican church.

Following the Mass, Pope Francis was to hold a rally with young people, make a visit to a charity, and meet with local priests, nuns and seminarians.

Papst Franziskus in Uganda

The pope has received a rapturous welcome

'Continent of hope'

On Friday, Francis

gave a speech

at the State House in Kampala, in which he praised Uganda for its treatment of refugees and called Africa "a continent of hope."

Gay activists in Uganda were also hoping that the pontiff would speak up for their rights in face of repressive laws against sexual minorities, despite the Catholic Church's own traditional disapproval of homosexuality.

Activist Frank Mugisha said it would be "a missed opportunity to protect LGBT persons" if the pontiff did not tackle the subject.

The Vatican has, however, declined to say whether the pope would speak out openly on gay rights during his visit.

Corruption in focus

During the rest of his tour of Uganda, the pope is expected to touch on the themes of

corruption and poverty,

and to try to encourage young African Christians.

Uganda Papst Franziskus mit Präsident Yoweri Museveni

Museveni praised the pope for his compassion for the poor

Africa is home to an estimated 180 million Catholics, and their numbers are growing fast. Uganda itself is 47 percent Catholic.

On Sunday, Pope Francis is to travel on to the Central African Republic, a country that has been

torn apart in an interreligious conflict

in which thousands have been killed and displaced.

tj/jlw (dpa, AP, AFP)

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