, Benin, Nov 20 – Pope Benedict XVI on Saturday labelled AIDS an “ethical problem” and condemned corruption as he laid out a vision for his Church’s future in Africa on his second visit to the continent.
Benedict signed off on a 135-page roadmap for the Roman Catholic Church in Africa at a basilica in the Benin city of Ouidah, a centre of voodoo, with the Temple of Pythons and its 30-odd snakes just across the street.
He signed the document on the second day of a three-day visit to Benin, a voodoo heartland and Catholic bastion where thousands have greeted him joyously since his arrival on Friday in the West African nation.
Around 30 voodoo followers were outside the Temple of Pythons as Benedict arrived at the basilica, many dressed in white and wearing fetish beads.
The document signed by Benedict — an apostolic exhortation called “The Pledge for Africa” containing conclusions from a 2009 synod of African bishops — includes peace, reconciliation and justice as its main message.
It calls for good governance, the abolition of the death penalty and denounces abuses, particularly against women and children, while describing AIDS as a mainly ethical problem that requires a medical response.
Changes in behaviour are needed to combat the disease, including sexual abstinence and rejection of promiscuity, it adds.
“The problem of AIDS in particular clearly calls for a medical and a pharmaceutical response,” it says. “This is not enough however. The problem goes deeper. Above all, it is an ethical problem.”
The Catholic Church’s position on AIDS and the use of condoms has long been controversial and carefully scrutinised, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, home to nearly 70 percent of the world’s HIV cases.
The pope’s comments on his first African trip to Cameroon and Angola in 2009 caused a global outcry when he suggested condom distribution aggravated the AIDS problem.
He has since appeared to ease that stance, saying in a book published last year that condom use is acceptable “in certain cases,” notably to reduce the risk of HIV infection.
Speaking at the basilica in Ouidah, Benedict addressed the themes of peace, reconciliation and justice contained in the roadmap.
“These are important issues for the world in general, but they take on a particular urgency in Africa,” said the 84-year-old.
“We need but recall the tensions, the acts of violence, the wars, the injustices and abuses of all sorts, new and old, which have marked this year.”
In another speech earlier Saturday, Benedict denounced corruption, warning it could lead to violent upheaval, and called on African leaders not to rob citizens of hope.
“At this time, there are too many scandals and injustices, too much corruption and greed, too many errors and lies, too much violence which leads to misery and to death,” he said at Benin’s presidential palace.
“These ills certainly afflict your continent, but they also afflict the rest of the world. Every people wishes to understand the political and economic choices which are made in its name. They perceive manipulation and their revenge is sometimes violent.”
Addressing politicians, religious leaders and diplomats, he also said: “From this place, I launch an appeal to all political and economic leaders of African countries and the rest of the world.
“Do not deprive your peoples of hope! Do not cut them off from their future by mutilating their present!”
The audience for his speech in the economic capital Cotonou included voodoo chiefs who also heard the pope call for inter-religious dialogue to take place without improper fusion of beliefs. Catholicism and voodoo beliefs often mix in Benin.
Benedict wrapped up the day by meeting with children at a church in Cotonou, as well as paying a visit to a group of orphans and sick children, including those with AIDS.
“Jesus is really present,” he told the children at Saint Rita church. “I invite you to visit with him often to tell him your love.”