By Thaddeus M. Baklinski

ROME, March 17, 2009 ( – While embarking on his first trip to Africa as pope today, Benedict XVI said that condoms are not the solution to the problem of AIDS in Africa and, in fact, they create more problems.

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 pontiff said to reporters aboard the papal plane.

Reiterating the Catholic Church’s stand against the predominating worldview that the AIDS epidemic can be assuaged by inundating developing countries with condoms, Pope Benedict said the solution lies in a “spiritual and human awakening” and “friendship for those who suffer.”

He said the “traditional teaching of the Church” on chastity outside marriage and fidelity within it had proved to be “the only sure way of preventing the spread of HIV and AIDS.” He added that while “we must suffer with those who suffer” and give greater support to those who are sick with the disease, combating AIDS in Africa depends on promoting “correct and moral behavior.”

Pope Benedict, who will visit Cameroon and Angola during the weeklong trip, said during his Sunday Angelus blessing that he wanted to wrap his arms around the entire continent, with “its painful wounds, its enormous potential and hopes.” He said that 2009 would be the “Year of Africa,” and will include a conference of African bishops in Rome in September and an African synod at the Vatican in October, in addition to his March 17-23 pastoral visit to the continent.

The Cameroon capital of Yaounde is the first stop on his visit, where the Holy Father will meet with the representatives of 52 African states in preparation for the October synod as well as meeting with representatives of the Muslim community and associations serving the handicapped.

The Pope will say an open-air Mass on Friday before traveling to Angola where he will meet with diplomats in Luanda to promote greater international support for Africa.

Pope Benedict will close his African pastoral visit with an open-air Mass in Luanda on Sunday, which will also celebrate the 500 years of Christian evangelization in the country.