YAOUNDE (Reuters) - Pope Benedict on Tuesday reaffirmed the Roman Catholic Church’s opposition to the use of condoms in the fight against AIDS as he started a visit to Africa, where more than 25 million people have died from the disease in recent decades.
The Pope, who arrived to a tumultuous welcome in the capital of Cameroon, also said the continent’s people were suffering disproportionately due to the global challenges of food shortages, financial crises and climate change.
“It (AIDS) cannot be overcome by the distribution of condoms. On the contrary, they increase the problem,” he said in response to a question about the Church’s widely contested position against the use of condoms.
The disease has killed more than 25 million people since the early 1980s, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, and some 22.5 million Africans are living with HIV.
His words were some of his most explicit on the use of condoms to stop the spread of AIDS since his election in 2005.
The Church teaches that fidelity within heterosexual marriage, chastity and abstinence are the best ways to stop AIDS. It does not approve condoms but some Church leaders have been calling for allowing their use in rare cases between married heterosexual couples where one partner has the disease.
“The only solution is two-fold: the first is a humanization of sexuality, a human, spiritual renewal which brings with it a new way of behaving among people and, secondly, a true friendship, especially for those who are suffering, a willingness to make personal sacrifices,” he said.
He called for “correct behavior regarding one’s body.”
The Pope was greeted by tens of thousands of dancing and singing people lining the 25 km route from the airport to the city.
With the number of practicing Catholics dwindling in the developed world, Africa is seen as vital to the Church’s future. But the relationship is not without controversy, mainly over the condoms issue.
“At a time of global food shortages, financial turmoil, and disturbing patterns of climate change Africa suffers disproportionately,” he told crowds on his arrival.
“More and more of her people are falling prey to hunger, poverty and disease. They cry out for reconciliation, justice and peace, and that is what the church offers them,” he said.
Speaking to reporters on the plane, the Pope said the economic crisis was a product of a “deficit of ethics in economic structures.”
“Ethics is something that should not be outside economics, but inside it. The economy does not work if it does not carry an ethical component inside itself,” he said.
In his arrival address to President Paul Biya, Benedict called on Christians to tackle violence, poverty, corruption and abuse of power, issues that have continually stifled the continent’s progress.
Many in Cameroon have called on the Pope to send a strong message to his host, Biya, who has ruled for over 26 years.
Biya’s time in power has been marked by accusations of high-level corruption and human rights abuses. The security forces this week destroyed street-side stalls that provided an income for thousands, in a bid to clean up the city.
Additional reporting by Tansa Musa; Editing by Angus MacSwan