PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- Ending his eight-nation tour Thursday, Pope John Paul II exhorted Haiti's rulers to combat the 'injustice ... misery, hunger and fear' afflicting the Western Hemisphere's poorest country.
The pope took off in the Alitali DC-10 at 12:17 a.m. EST, 17 minutes behind schedule, from the Port-Au-Prince airport. The flight to Rome is 10 hours long.
In a final address to Haitians at the airport, the pope paraphrased a prepared speech and told the people to 'stand firm' against hardship.
Speaking in French at an afternoon mass at the airport, the pope earlier said, 'Something must change here.'
The audience, estimated at 200,000, roared its approval, clapping their hands and beating on drums used at voodoo ceremonies as the pope made his demands for human rights and a better life for the poor.
President-for-Life Jean Claude Duvalier, his wife Michelle, and mother Simone, watched the mass from gilded :hairs upholstered in white. No one in the presidential party applauded the pope's homily.
Duvalier stared stonily at the pontiff, showing no emotion, while the audience interrupted the pope 27 times with applause.
The homily, a blistering condemnation of poverty and human suffering in this Caribbean nation, was the most strongly worded political and social statement of the pope's eight-day pilgrimage to Central America and Haiti.
The pope, who earlier in the day traveled to Belize, the only English speaking country in Central America, returns to Rome Thursday, ending his sojourn for peace to Costa Rica, Panama, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala.
At night, the pope opened the 19th assembly of the Latin American Bishops Conference, which apologized for the 'senseless disrespect' and 'profanation' John Paul received in a visit Friday to leftist-ruled Nicaragua.
Supporters of Nicaragua's leftist Sandinista regime repeatedly interrupted the pope's mass with raucous cries and chants of revolutionary slogans.
Duvalier, 31, son of the late Francois 'Papa Doc' Duvalier, greeted the pope at the airport with a statement that said Haiti was an oasis of peace.
'The Haitian nation welcoming you, most holy father, is this land of a glorious past, a nation of peace in an area of turmoil, a model of stability in a world of disarray,' Duvalier said.
In an apparent attempt to improve strained relations with the Catholic church, Duvalier also said he would give up the right given his father to approve the selection of all Haitian bishops and archbishops.
'I am present in a country that is predominantly black,' John Paul told the crowd, who peered from underneath gaily painted parasols and waved paper yellow and white Vatican flags and Haiti's red and black banner.
'I see this as a sign of great importance for I can thus enter directly into contact with the third component of the culture of the civilizations of the people of Latin and Central America -- people from Africa.'
The pope closed his eyes to the glare of the afternoon sun that shot temperatures to 90 degrees Fahrenheit as he stepped off the Alitalia DC-10 to kiss the oil-stained tarmac at Francois Duvalier International Airport.
John Paul sat in a chair sculpted from Haitian mahogany and conducted mass from an altar with a :ommunion table covered in white linen.
He said Haiti -- a French-speaking nation that shares the Caribbean island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic -- was afflicted by 'injustice, excessive inequality, the degradation of the quality of life, misery, hunger, fear of many people.
'I have come to encourage a reawakening, a step forward by the church for the good of the country,' the pope said.
Relations have grown strained between the Catholic church and the Duvalier government as priests have stepped up criticisms of the regime.
Duvalier has lessened somewhat the human rights abuses that characterized his father's rule, however the paramilitary squads set up by his father still exist and freedom of expression is virtually non-existent.
'As far as I'im concerned this is the event of the century for Haiti,' said one Haitian businessman of the pope's visit.
'The pope's visit is a dream come true,' added a young woman.
The crowd interrupted him with cheers when he closed his homily in Creole -- the mixture of French and English used by all Haitians in preference to official French -- with the words, 'Haitians everywhere, I am with you.