VATICAN CITY, MARCH 29, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI did not hide the joy he felt at seeing numerous young African students gathered today in St. Peter’s Square to thank him for the message of hope he brought to the continent.
Young men and women, some religious or seminarians, waving flags that represented various African countries, expressed their appreciation for the Pontiff’s March 17-23 trip to Cameroon and Angola.
Led by Guinean Archbishop Robert Sarah, secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, the students also gathered to show their solidarity with the Holy Father after he came under fire for saying that the distribution of condoms is not the solution for fighting AIDS.
“Dear friends, you wanted to come to manifest your joy for my apostolic trip to Africa,” Benedict XVI told the students. “I thank you from my heart. I pray for you, for your families and your homelands.”
The head of the Committee of African Students in Rome, Pierre Baba Mansare, explained to ZENIT that the event was organized after seeing the coverage of the Pope’s visit in the media: “Of the Holy Father’s whole pastoral message, the Western media only focused on the statement about condoms with the purpose of starting a polemic.”
“[W]e decided to respond with a small demonstration of gratitude to the Holy Father for his lucid and objective diagnosis of the African reality, a diagnosis that the international community, a diagnosis that the international community, distracted by the media polemic, did not hear,” he explained.
Mansare added that the students wanted to send a message to the Western media: “Don’t talk about Africa without knowing the reality, trampling on its values!”
Another organizer, Mari Anne Mollo of Cameroon, told ZENIT that she was disappointed with the coverage of the Papal trip: “The mass media presented the ugly, suffering, disease-filled side of the continent. We had expected that they would talk about a beautiful, welcoming, lively, smiling Africa.”
“Cameroon took two days of holiday to welcome the Pope,” she said. “The journalists reduced the trip to [the statements] about condoms and ignored the Pontiff’s [other] statements.”
Mollo, who is a student at the Pontifical Gregorian University, also noted that her continent also faces other more fundamental challenges: “Africans don’t just die from AIDS, but from other diseases too, due to a lack of hygiene. How can condoms be prioritized when the lack of other basics for survival is felt?”
“The massive promotion of condoms,” she continued, “causes cultural, economic, moral impoverishment because it encourages people to engage in irresponsible behavior and it goes against our culture.
“Because of this we say ‘no’ to the disparagement of our culture and our traditions. We want to walk with Benedict XVI and follow the lines that he traced for our present and our future, and in this way write a new page.“