BUJUMBURA, Burundi — Pope John Paul II, visiting a region ravaged by AIDS, said today that the disease must be treated as both a psychological and medical problem. He stressed a need for changes in sexual behavior.
The Pope, who traveled to this tiny, mountainous country on the fifth day of a 10-day African trip, addressed about 75,000 pilgrims at an open-air Mass on a sloping field at Gitega, about 65 miles north of the capital, Bujumbura.
Addressing the issue of Burundi's massive overpopulation, the pontiff urged followers to practice natural birth control and "responsible parenthood."
He urged parents to decide "the children they desire to have and believe they are able to raise."
"That requires great respect between the spouses and self-control in their intimate life--a love that maintains constant respect for the woman's maternal role," he said.
In a speech Wednesday to Burundi's bishops, the Pope declared that AIDS is a moral issue that calls for changes in sexual behavior.
He said AIDS is a pandemic that must not be treated solely as a medical problem. He stressed its "implications of a moral and anthropological character."
"The epidemic differs from so many others that humanity has known in that specific human behavior plays a role in its spread," John Paul said in the speech. "It is linked, directly or not, to the transmission of life and love."
The first big landmark on the Pope's drive from the airport to the city was a 90-foot-wide sign warning against the dangers of AIDS spread by permissive sex in polygamous African societies.
"The Burundi society, like many others in the world, is exposed to a grave danger," the Pope said. "I am talking about the pandemic of AIDS which afflicts a number of your compatriots, especially young adults, and it is painful to state it, little children."
John Paul said AIDS poses major challenges for the church, such as informing and educating people about the disease while making sure the problem "is not treated at the expense of the (moral) ethic."
He said the church has a duty to assist AIDS sufferers, not only with health care but with "psychological and spiritual assistance" for those with an acute form of the illness and those who carry the virus.
"These people often tend to close themselves in an anguished silence," he said.