Pope John Paul II carried his message of faith and hope Wednesday to Zambia's severely depressed Copper Belt, where 300,000 cheering, dancing citizens greeted the pontiff on the third stop of his four-nation tour of Africa.

Huge crowds from throughout the region had been massing for three days in Kitwe and nearby Ndola, 180 miles north of the capital Lusaka, bearing chickens, pumpkins, traditional axes, fruit and gourds to be presented as gifts to the pontiff.Arriving by light plane from the capital, John Paul drove 6 miles through cheering throngs of men, women, children and tribal dancers in his bubble-topped "popemobile" to the airport at Ndola for an open-air Mass.

"The Lord has never abandoned his people but always seeks to draw ever closer to them," he said in his sermon to the massed crowd, estimated at about 300,000 people, many of whom have suffered severe hardship due to lost income from the region's copper mines caused by weak world prices and inefficient management.