Pope John Paul II, starting his fifth trip to Africa as Pope, raised the possibility Friday of a formal visit to South Africa sometime in the next year.
The issue of a papal visit to South African came up at a press conference on the Pope's flight from Rome to Madagascar, an island nation of more than 2 million Roman Catholics, the first of four stops in nine days.
Among the stops is Lusaka, Zambia, headquarters of the anti-apartheid African National Congress, where the pontiff is expected to make a powerful denunciation of apartheid. The racial separation policy in South Africa is an important obstacle to a papal visit, he indicated.
"Speaking sociopolitically," the Pope said, "we all know very well what the moral problems are in this sphere in South Africa."
Not Directed at Leaders
But he added that papal visits are directed at Catholics, not necessarily their leaders, and he suggested that he would make the evil of apartheid the theme of any visit to South Africa.
"The Pope must be respected in his role as someone who tells the truth," he said.
Vatican officials said later that John Paul expects to make two further trips to Africa in the next year, and a stop in South Africa could be included.
In his remarks en route to Madagascar, the pontiff also made one of his strongest statements yet on another subject he is likely to take up during this trip--AIDS. He said that AIDS, which in the West generally strikes homosexuals and intravenous drug users but in Africa is largely a problem for heterosexuals, is something that reflects the decline in the moral order of the times.
"It is not a case of personal blame in each instance," he said, "but many times it is."
AIDS Affects Up to 20%
AIDS, or acquired immune deficiency syndrome, is estimated to affect up to 20% of the people of Zambia and Malawi, his two final stops on this trip. Among the more prominent victims is the son of Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda.
The Pope also said he might meet with Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev when Gorbachev travels to Italy in November. Such a meeting would be the first between the Pope and a Soviet leader.
Meanwhile, the pontiff's arrival in Madagascar placed him squarely in the middle of a developing political maelstrom. He landed amid a "papal truce" called by opposition parties whose contention that last month's presidential election here was rigged has led to riots that left six dead and 74 injured last week in downtown Antananarivo.
The election, which was overseen by a committee of churches, including the Catholic Church, gave President Didier Ratsiraka his third seven-year term with 62.7% of the vote, his smallest margin ever.
Foes Charged Fraud
The opposition complained of widespread fraud and of an electoral code that allowed Ratsiraka to schedule the vote during the rainy season, when only he could reach remote rural districts to campaign.
At one point the government hinted that unless the opposition halted public demonstrations, it might be forced to cancel the Pope's visit.
The opposition, led by Manandafy Rakotonarina, a key figure in the 1972 revolution that drove out the colonial French, promptly declared a treve , or truce.
"No politician wanted to take responsibility for the cancellation of the visit," a diplomat in the capital said.
On greeting John Paul at Antananarivo's Ivato airport Friday evening, the Jesuit-educated Ratsiraka laced into the opposition, charging them with fomenting "anarchy and political bad faith."
The Pope listened impassively from his seat in the airport's VIP lounge. In his response, he made no allusion to Madagascar politics.
Madagascar's Catholics, about 20% of the population, are slightly outnumbered by Protestants and overwhelmed by the 55% who profess belief in animism and a mystical brand of ancestor worship.
Elaborate tombs adorn the countryside, and the streets are often blocked by processions of carts carrying coffins. These are not exactly funerals, but rites in which the bodies of the dead are exhumed at regular intervals, reclothed, and led around the neighborhood to reacquaint the dead with the living. The Malagasy people often make decisions based on what they gather to be their ancestors' wishes.
The Catholic Church here long ago came to terms with these beliefs. One prominent Malagasy noted that priests, far from objecting to such rites, "often themselves preside at the ceremonies. They coexist very comfortably."
In contrast, Catholics have often had an unhappy relationship with the country's rulers and nationalists. Four priests were killed last year by what are thought to be political groups. Three were killed the year before, among them an Italian priest who was beheaded by a nationalist youth group that was later disbanded.
The killings were discomfiting echoes of trying times in the past. These included a period in the 19th Century when a Malagasy queen had Catholics flung off the cliff behind her palace, the peaked black roof of which rises over the site of several events scheduled in connection with the papal visit.
Still, Ratsiraka is trying harder to appeal to Catholic leaders, as he is to other Western powers. Press censorship has been lifted for the most part, and opposition candidates were permitted to wage unusually energetic presidential campaigns last month.
Furthermore, the president appears to be trying to reverse more than a decade of economic decline here by shifting his economic policies from a brand of socialism to Western-style free enterprise.
THE POPE IN AFRICA 1--Pope John Paul II arrived in Madagascar on Friday, the first stop in a 9-day African tour.
2--May 1-2. The Pope will make an overnight call at the French island of La Reunion in the Indian Ocean. There he will beatify a 19th-Century holy woman and meet with French Premier Michel Rocard.
3--May 2-4. The Pope will be in copper-rich Zambia, where per capita income among the 6.7 million people is less than $500 a year and the economy is stagnant.
4--May 4--Malawi, the Pope's last stop before returning to Rome, is, like Madagascar and Zambia, about 25% Catholic, but its president is an elder of the Church of Scotland. Dr. H. Kamuzu Banda has led Malawi since independence from Britain in 1964. The average Malawian earns only about $200 a year.