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Africa

Pope Benedict visits Africa; reaffirms anti-condom policy

Video by FRANCE 2 , Luke SHRAGO

Latest update : 2009-03-18

Pope Benedict XVI landed in Yaounde for a week-long trip around Cameroon and Angola where he is to meet political leaders after telling reporters on Tuesday condoms only "aggravated" the AIDS scourge in Africa.

AFP - Pope Benedict XVI on Tuesday began his first visit to Africa as pontiff, saying he was bringing the "Christian message of hope" to a continent ravaged by conflict, poverty and the scourge of AIDS.

"Even amid the greatest suffering, the Christian message always brings hope," the pope said as he arrived from Rome.

"In the face of suffering or violence, poverty or hunger, corruption or abuse of power, a Christian can never remain silent," the 81-year-old pope said from a plexiglass podium after being greeted on the tarmac by Cameroon President Paul Biya.

"At a time of global food shortages, financial turmoil, and disturbing patterns of climate change, Africa suffers disproportionately," he said. "More and more of her people are falling prey to hunger, poverty and disease."

However the head of the world's 1.1 billion Catholics earlier Tuesday stood firm against the use of condoms, saying during a question-and-answer session aboard the flight from Rome that they were not a solution to combatting AIDS.

The disease "is a tragedy ... that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which even aggravates the problems," the 81-year-old pontiff said.

The solution lies in a "spiritual and human awakening" and "friendship for those who suffer," said Benedict, who will also visit Angola during the weeklong trip.

The pope also denied feeling alone in the controversy sparked when he lifted the excommunication of Holocaust-denying bishop Richard Williamson.

"In truth, this myth about solitude makes me laugh," the pope said during the flight, dismissing reports in the Italian media that the controversy had left him isolated. "I am surrounded by friends. Solitude does not exist," he said.

The pope, who will turn 82 on April 16, last month said he wanted 2009 to be the "Year of Africa," which will also include a conference of African bishops in Rome in September and an African synod at the Vatican in October.

The stop in Yaounde, where Benedict will stay until Friday, will include a meeting with the representatives of 52 African states preparing the October synod.

The capital -- where Benedict is to celebrate an open-air mass on Thursday -- has been spruced up, with public buildings repainted, roads repaired and trees and shrubs planted and trimmed.

Vatican and Cameroonian flags bearing photos of Benedict and Biya flutter throughout the city, particularly around the teeming John F. Kennedy avenue.

However, in a country of nearly 19 million people where development has been hampered by one of the highest levels of corruption in the world, many ordinary people are struggling to show enthusiasm.

"Pope Benedict is offering us his first visit to Africa. We are happy. However, no one is going crazy with delight," Catholic sociologist Pierre Titi Nwel told AFP.

Benedict will also meet with representatives of the Muslim community and associations serving the handicapped.

In Angola, which is still recovering from 27 years of civil war, Benedict will meet with diplomats posted in Luanda and urge the international community not to abandon Africa.

The German pontiff will celebrate an open-air mass in Luanda on Sunday.

Sub-Saharan Africa is more heavily affected by AIDS than any other region of the world. Nearly two-thirds of all adults and children with HIV live in the region, according to a 2006 report by UNAIDS.

AIDS prevention is a subject that often puts the Vatican at odds with international health organisations, since the Roman Catholic Church advocates abstinence as the only effective way of preventing the spread of AIDS and opposes campaigns for the use of condoms.

Last year about 60 Catholic groups wrote an open letter to Benedict urging him to reverse the Vatican's opposition to contraception.

The ban on condoms "exposes millions of people to the risk of contracting the AIDS virus," they said.

The trip is Benedict's 11th outside Italy in his four years as the head of the world's 1.1 billion Catholics.

While it is his first trip to Africa as pope, Benedict has travelled to the continent once before, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in 1987 when he visited the Democratic Republic of Congo (then Zaire).

Date created : 2009-03-17

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