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BOB ABERNETHY, anchor: Pope Benedict XVI returned to the Vatican this week from his seven-day visit to Africa, his first trip there as pope. News coverage of what happened in Africa was overshadowed by the controversy the pope himself set off when he told reporters en route that the distribution of condoms in Africa makes the HIV-AIDS crisis there worse, not better. Here to review the pope’s trip is Kevin Eckstrom, the editor of Religion News Service. Kevin, welcome.
KEVIN ECKSTROM (Editor, Religion News Service): Thanks.
ABERNETHY: What happened?
Mr. ECKSTROM: Well, there was, I think, two trips in one here. There was the trip that happened on the ground where the pope went to meet his flock in Africa, which was for the most part pretty successful. But the other trip that we saw was the one that was overshadowed by the controversy on the condom comments. You know, that story, it’s a week later, and we’re still talking about it. So it — that sort of overshadowed everything else they talked about
ABERNETHY: He seems to have a tendency to say things that seem to us unnecessarily controversial, true?
Mr. ECKSTROM: There is a tendency, rightly or wrongly, that this Vatican is a little tone deaf on how things are going to come across. It makes total sense to them, and their positions are very well thought out. But how it’s received by everyone else—there’s a big gap there.
ABERNETHY: But this condom thing, that was not an accident. I mean, all questions for the pope on his plane must be submitted in advance, in writing. So he knew what he was going to be asked?
Mr. ECKSTROM: Exactly. I mean, they knew exactly what they were getting into on this one. And it always makes you wonder if they were actually trying to make some news out of this. You know, the pope’s trip to Africa was news before he even landed in Cameroon.
ABERNETHY: It was, as you said, very successful. He encouraged the Catholics in Africa?
Mr. ECKSTROM: Right. I mean, this is a growing, thriving part of the church that the pope sort of wanted to see and almost needs to see. He’s been decrying this dictatorship of relativism in Europe in sort of an anemic church. And you go to Africa and they can’t fit enough people into the churches. They can’t ordain enough pastors for all the people. It’s a rapidly growing part of the church, and I think there’s a bit of an energy boost for both sides there.
ABERNETHY: And competition for Islam there too, right?
Mr. ECKSTROM: Right. In Cameroon, for example, his first stop, one out of every four people is Muslim, and only half the population’s Christian, and they’re both fighting—nonviolently, of course—for souls in that area of the world.
ABERNETHY: And that is now the center of Christianity in the world, isn’t it?
Mr. ECKSTROM: Right. The balance of power has shifted from the largely Christian North to the rapidly growing South.
ABERNETHY: Kevin Eckstrom of Religion News Service, many thanks.
Mr. ECKSTROM: You’re welcome.