LUANDA, Angola – Pope Benedict XVI on Friday began the second leg of his African pilgrimage in Angola, where most of the people — including more than 8.5 million Catholics — live in poverty despite the country's multibillion-dollar oil revenues.

Benedict flew to Angola after a meeting Friday morning in Cameroon with about 15 pygmies who presented him with a turtle. In his departure speech, he referred to the work of a center for the sick and disabled that he had visited, and said its "Christ-like compassion is a sure sign of hope for the future of the church and the future of Africa."

Angolan President Eduardo dos Santos and a military band welcomed the pope as he left his chartered plane in the sweltering heat.

It was in Angola that Portuguese missionaries baptized the continent's first Catholic convert in 1491. More than 60 percent of the population is Catholic, despite a Marxist revolution and a 1975-2002 civil war in which many missionaries were slain.

Angola's longtime president, dos Santos, was married in 1992 in a televised Catholic ceremony.

"Christianity is not only a religion but a composite part of the Angolan identity, said Nelson Pestana, a political scientist who lectures at the Catholic University of Angola.

Dos Santos' party swept elections last year that critics say were marred by fraud and corruption. The victory has silenced many dissenting voices, including those of the church, Pestana said, adding that the pope should be careful that his visit this week does not appear to legitimize dos Santos' 30-year rule.

"The pope, who has great authority to speak, would influence the powers that be in Angola by drawing greater attention to the poor," he said. "But the regime wants a sort of papal benediction, so that its authoritarianism will not be seen as an absolute dictatorship but a symbolic enthronement as a divinely inspired power."

Angola is rich in diamonds and oil, but war and mismanagement have left most Angolans in poverty. Pestana says some of the country's bishops have spoken out in courageous pastoral letters condemning the use of multibillion-dollar oil revenues for personal enrichment while citizens remain poor.

He says the bishops are divided between those who would see the church reinforcing its status by cementing a strong alliance with the government and those who warn that this would be corrupting.

Pestana fears the papal visit will profit only the government because "the benefits for the image of those in power does not necessarily translate into benefits for the population or into social progress."

Benedict indicated he was not looking for confrontation, telling reporters before he left for Africa: "The church does not pursue economic, social and political objectives. The church announces Christ, certain that the Gospel can touch the hearts of all and transform them."