The number of Catholics on the African continent is growing. More Catholics are now baptized in Nigeria than in Italy or Spain, for example. According to Vatican figures, baptized Catholics made up 17 percent of the African population in 2006, compared to 12 percent in 1978. With this growth in the numbers of the faithful in mind, Pope Benedict XVI embarked on a weeklong papal visit to the African continent in mid-March, holding open-air masses in several countries, including Angola and Cameroon.
While on his first trip to Africa, where some 22 million people are infected by HIV, the pontiff made it a point to address African youth on the AIDS epidemic and sexuality. The AIDS epidemic is ‘a tragedy that cannot be overcome by money alone, that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which can even increase the problem', the pontiff maintained.
The pope preached that the answer to the epidemic lies in responsible and moral behavior, chastity and sexual abstinence, not in the use of condoms. His comments sparked criticism among AIDS activists and health workers.
Before leaving for Africa, the pope also made his first visit to the Campidoglio, Rome's city hall. He is the third pontiff to attend a Rome city council meeting; the others were Paul VI and John Paul II.