The 78-year-old pontiff was given a rapturous welcome as he arrived in Uganda from Kenya on Friday, with excited crowds expected to turn out for an open-air mass and vast youth rally on Saturday.
Francis, who has railed against corruption and wealthy minorities who hoard resources at the expense of the poor, struck a more optimistic tone in Uganda.
In his opening speech, Francis said his visit was “meant to draw attention to Africa as a whole: its promise, its hopes, its struggles and its achievements,” saying “the world looks to Africa as the continent of hope.”
The pope, who has made humility and help for the impoverished a hallmark of his tenure, travelled in a small hatchback car from the airport as waving crowds thronged the roadsides.
He later headed to a shrine at Munyonyo, near the capital Kampala, where in 1886 the Ugandan king ordered the execution of Christians, revered as martyrs.
– Giant youth rally –
On Saturday, Francis will hold a mass at another shrine to the martyrs at Namugongo, where 32 Christians were burned to death in 1886 for refusing to recant their faith.
Later, he will meet with young Ugandans at a huge ground in the capital’s Kololo district.
Veteran Ugandan leader Yoweri Museveni, widely expected to be re-elected next year for his third decade in power, said he was honoured to host Pope Francis, describing his compassion for the poor and his frankness of spirit as “an encouragement for all of us.”
On the eve of his arrival, Ugandan MPs passed a controversial bill handing the authorities sweeping powers to supervise, approve, inspect and dissolve NGOs in a move which could see rights activists jailed for documenting abuses.
Rights groups say the move is likely to “strangle” criticism of the government.
Security has been ratcheted up for the papal visit over fears Islamist rebels from Al-Qaeda’s East Africa branch, the Shabaab, could use the opportunity to stage attacks.
But defence chief Katumba Wamala has said measures are in place and expressed confidence that “all will go as planned.”
Francis has shrugged off safety fears, joking that he was “more worried about the mosquitoes”. He travels to war-torn Central African Republic (CAR) on Sunday, his final destination before returning to Rome.
He also delivered a hard-hitting address on corruption and radicalisation, as well as a stark environmental message, warning it would be “catastrophic” if agreement is not reached at a key UN climate summit which opens in Paris on Monday.