Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Wheels Down... Almost

The Pope is scheduled to arrive in the Cameroonian capital Yaoundé at 4pm local time (11am ET; 1500GMT; webstreams) -- but just after takeoff from Rome's Fiumicino airport, B16 took the traditional press conference with his traveling pool aboard the Volo Papale.

The traditional tone-setting encounter for a PopeTrip is the only time the pontiff speaks directly with the press.

Datelined "Aboard the Papal Plane," a summary from CNS' John Thavis is already up and running:
Speaking to reporters aboard his Alitalia chartered jet March 17, the pope strongly defended the church's efforts to fight AIDS and said condom distribution only made the problem worse.

"One cannot overcome the problem with the distribution of condoms. On the contrary, they increase the problem," the pope said.

Nor can the AIDS pandemic be confronted only with aid programs, he said.

What the church teaches, he said, is "humanization of sexuality" and sexual responsibility on the one hand, and a willingness to be present with those who are suffering, on the other hand.

He pointed to the many church programs currently helping AIDS victims and said the church's contribution had led to real and visible progress.

The U.N. office monitoring the pandemic reports some 22 million Africans living with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS; that number represents about 67 percent of all HIV-positive people in the world. The office also reported that 74 percent of all AIDS-related deaths in 2007 occurred in sub-Saharan Africa.

Church officials estimate that Catholic institutions and programs provide about one-fourth of all health care to AIDS victims.

Discussing the global economic crisis, the pope told reporters he intended to appeal to the international community not to forget Africa. He said he was going to Africa with a spiritual program, not a political or economic one, but that his message could provide part of the solution to the current crisis.

"A fundamental element of this crisis is a deficit of ethics in economic structures. Economics does not function if it does not carry with it ethical elements," he said.

Asked about the proliferation of religious sects in Africa, the pope said he thought the appeal of religious sects does not last very long among Africans. These sects, he said, promise prosperity, but after a while Africans see that life goes on and problems remain.

For that reason, he said, Africans are attracted to Christianity, which offers a God who is man, a God who suffers with human beings and is therefore closer to them....

The pope took six questions from journalists aboard the plane, which was taking him to Cameroon, the first stop on a seven-day trip that would also take him to Angola.

The first question was about what some newspapers have described as the pope's solitude in the face of recent controversies and criticism, including those surrounding his lifting the excommunication of four bishops from the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X.

One of the four, Bishop Richard Williamson, has denied the extent of the Holocaust, and after a public outcry, the Vatican made it clear the bishop would have to recant and publicly apologize before he could be fully reinstated in the Catholic Church.
Pope Benedict told reporters: "I have to laugh a bit about this myth of my solitude. In no way do I feel alone. I am really surrounded by friends, close collaborators, bishops and laypeople."
Full transcript to come.

PHOTO: Reuters