Huge pilgrimage to Angolan 'Lourdes'

2012-08-05 22:29
Angolans gathering in Muxima, 150 kms from Luanda, to take part in the largest Catholic pilgrimage in the country. (Estelle Maussion, AFP)

Angolans gathering in Muxima, 150 kms from Luanda, to take part in the largest Catholic pilgrimage in the country. (Estelle Maussion, AFP)

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Muxima - Hundreds of thousands of Angolans flocked on Sunday to the Catholic shrine of Muxima in the southern African country's largest pilgrimage.

The faithful travelled from all corners of the oil-rich nation to pray to a statue of the Virgin Mary in a quaint white church that dates from 16th century Portuguese colonial rule in the small town.

"Muxima could become a renowned global shrine like Fatima in Portugal or Lourdes in France," said the rector Father Albino Reyes Gonzalez.

The town, which counts only 3 000 permanent residents, is in the middle of the Quissama National Park, on the banks of the Kwanza River 150km southeast of the capital Luanda.

But it has grown in popularity over the years, as three out of five people in the nation are Catholic.

Numerous government infrastructure construction projects have also helped to bring the area out of isolation.

Whereas in previous years pilgrims prayed for fertility, today they seek health, success, or employment for their loved ones - symptoms of the social realities that confront most Angolans today.

"I've come to ask the Virgin that things work out with my husband," 31-year-old Isabela Nunes told AFP, echoing this year's pilgrimage theme of "reconciling families".

The UN children's agency Unicef estimates that 87% of the urban population lives in shacks, even though the nation's oil riches have turned Angola into one of the world's fastest-growing economies.

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Read more on:    roman catholic church  |  angola  |  religion  |  southern africa
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