By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
As he embarked on the first leg of his historic trip to Africa, Pope Benedict XVI took the time to speak with reporters about a variety of issues ranging from his private life to the Church’s approach to the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
During the flight to Cameroon, the first-stop on the Pope’s trip to Africa, reporters asked him about his rumoured solitude. “Do you really feel alone?” they asked.
“To tell the truth I cannot help laughing a little about this myth of my solitude. I do not feel alone at all. Every day I hold meetings with my closest collaborators, first among them the secretary of State. …. Truly, I am surrounded by friends in a marvellous collaboration with bishops, with my collaborators, and with lay people, and I am grateful for this.”
Asked about the impact of the world economic crisis on poor countries, and whether he would examine this theme in his forthcoming Encyclical, the Holy Father said: “A fundamental element of the crisis is precisely a lack of ethics in financial structures; it has been understood that ethics are not something ‘outside’ the economy but ‘inside’ it, and the economy does not work if it does not contain the ethical component.”
The Pope also replied to a question concerning the specific relevance for Africa of the Catholic Church’s position on sects.
“We, unlike some of them, do not announce a Gospel of prosperity, but Christian realism. We do not announce miracles, as some do, but the sobriety of Christian life. We are convinced that all this sobriety and realism which announce a God Who became man (therefore a profoundly human God a God Who also suffers with us) give meaning to our own suffering. In this way, announcement has a broader horizon and a greater future. We also know that these sects are not very stable. … The announcement of prosperity, of miraculous healing, etc., may do good in the short term, but we soon see that life is difficult, that a human God, a God Who suffers with us, is more convincing, truer, and offers greater help for life”.
Answering a question on the Catholic Church’s approach to HIV/AIDS, considered by some as unrealistic and ineffective, the Pope said:
“It is my belief that the most effective presence on the front in the battle against HIV/AIDS is in fact the Catholic Church and her institutions. … The problem of HIV/AIDS cannot be overcome with mere slogans. If the soul is lacking, if Africans do not help one another, the scourge cannot be resolved by distributing condoms; quite the contrary, we risk worsening the problem. The solution can only come through a twofold commitment: firstly, the humanisation of sexuality, in other words a spiritual and human renewal bringing a new way of behaving towards one another; and secondly, true friendship, above all with the suffering, a readiness – even through personal sacrifice – to stand by those who suffer.”
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