PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - Thousands of proud Haitians packed the national football stadium in the capital on Sunday for a special outdoor Mass by the country's first Roman Catholic Cardinal, appointed last month by Pope Francis.
Cardinal Chibly Langlois called on the country's faithful in the predominantly Catholic Caribbean nation of 10 million people to come together to raise the country out of poverty.
"To unify the country, to get out of poverty, I ask you to live together," he told the congregation.
His surprise selection as Cardinal was a sign that God had not abandoned Haiti, the poorest nation in the western hemisphere, he said.
"Pope Francis loves the Haitian people. He shows us that through his prayers and he chose one of us to become one of his cardinals," he added.
Pope Francis chose January 12th, the fourth anniversary of the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti that killed more than 200,000 people, to announce the nomination of Langlois, the relatively unknown bishop of Les Cayes, the main city on Haiti's south coast.
Sunday's Mass marked the anniversary of a famous 1983 visit to Haiti by Pope John Paul 11 who condemned the inequality and fear of poor Haitians living under the dictatorship of Jean-Claude "Baby Doc' Duvalier, saying "things must change."
In his first action, Langlois, 55, initiated talks with national political leaders as part of an effort to reach agreement to hold long overdue parliamentary elections which should have been held in November 2011.
"This is a very emotional moment for me, especially at the stadium, because people from all regions of Haiti came to this celebration," Langlois told Reuters before the Mass.
"At the national level, as the Pope requested, I will be close to the population," Langlois said.
"There are challenges in Haiti ... to strengthen the Catholic faith," he said, noting the growth of other religions, including traditional voodoo and Protestant churches.
On a social and political scale, we Haitians have to learn how to talk to each other, to solve problems, to renounce violence and find peace," he added.
In the packed stadium, the crowd sang and prayed for more than three hours. Standing on the football field, Marguerite Viber, 17, said she was proud that Haiti has its first cardinal.
"While the Dominican Republic was insulting and criticizing Haiti, the Pope said that the Haitian people are the children of God," she said, referring to an immigration dispute with Haiti's neighbor over people of Haitian descent born in the Dominican Republic.
"I give glory to God for this gift, not just for this new cardinal who offers the possibility one day, maybe, to have a Haitian Pope, but also for this lesson to those who speak only badly of Haiti, that God gave Haiti a chance to shine in the world."
(Editing by David Adams and Eric Walsh)