Pope, heading to AIDS-hit Africa, stands firm against condoms

18th March 2009, Comments 0 comments

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.

Aboard the Papal Plane -- Pope Benedict XVI headed to AIDS-ravaged Africa on Tuesday standing firm against the use of condoms, saying they were not a solution to combating the disease.

AIDS "is a tragedy that cannot be overcome by money alone, 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 visit Cameroon and Angola during the weeklong trip.

The pope was scheduled to land in the Cameroon capital Yaounde at around 4:00 pm (1500 GMT) Tuesday.

Speaking to reporters aboard the papal plane, 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, 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 trip is Benedict's first as pontiff to Africa, and during his Sunday Angelus blessing he said he wanted to wrap his arms around the entire continent, with "its painful wounds, its enormous potential and hopes."

The pope, who will turn 82 on April 16, said last month that 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.

Benedict, who is due to celebrate an open-air mass in Yaounde on Thursday, 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.

AIDS more heavily affects Sub-Saharan Africa 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.

The prevalence of HIV infection is "creeping up" in west Africa, notably in Cameroon at 5.1 percent and Gabon at 5.9 percent, according to the AIDS charity AVERT on its website.

Southern Africa bears a disproportionate share of the global HIV burden, with 35 percent of the world's new HIV infections and 38 percent of AIDS deaths in 2007.

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).

Martine Nouaille/AFP/Expatica

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