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Pope talks to the public in a television first

Pope Benedict XVI has made broadcasting history by appearing on TV to answer several questions from the public, including from a child who survived the recent earthquake in Japan and a Muslim woman from Ivory Coast.

Pope Benedict XVI speaking to a TV audience

Pope Benedict XVI spoke with seven selected participants

In a carefully choreographed, pre-recorded program, broadcast on Good Friday on Italian state television, the pope responded to seven questions put forward by selected lay people around the world. It marked a new attempt by the head of the Roman Catholic Church to freshen his image.

The program took the format of an Italian TV chat show, with a moderator and a panel of experts before a studio audience. Sitting at his desk, the 84-year-old pope spoke via video link to the participants.

First, a seven-year-old Japanese girl called Elena told the pontiff of her fear when the earthquake struck her home in March. She asked him to explain the suffering in her country.

""I want to know: why do I have to be so afraid?" Elena said. "Why do children have to be so sad? I'm asking the pope, who speaks with God, to explain it to me," she asked.

Pope Benedict XVI holds a candle during the Easter vigil mass in St. Peter's Basilica, Rome

The Easter festivities are some of the most important in the Christian calendar

Benedict XVI said he too asked those questions. Referring to Jesus' death and resurrection, he tried to comfort the girl: "We do not have the answers but we know that Jesus suffered as you do, an innocent, and that the true God who is revealed in Jesus is by your side."

Reassurance for the faithful

Next, an Italian mother, Maria Teresa, wanted to know whether the soul of her son, Francesco, who has been in a vegetative coma since Easter Sunday 2009, had left his unconscious body.

Benedict, whose love for music is well known, replied to her by way of a musical metaphor.

"The situation, perhaps, is like that of a guitar whose strings have been broken and therefore can no longer play. The instrument of the body is fragile like that, it is vulnerable, and the soul cannot play, so to speak, but remains present," the pontiff said.

Benedict, who frequently reminds the faithful that according to Catholic teachings euthanasia is wrong, then told the mother that her spending hours everyday by her son's side was an act of faith in God and of "respect for human life, even in the saddest of situations."

Questions from around the globe

Other questions posed to the 84-year-old pontiff dealt with ongoing conflicts in Africa and the Middle East and provided him with an opportunity to stress the need for peace and religious tolerance.

A group of young people from Baghdad, who described themselves as "persecuted Christians," asked for advice on how to persuade other members of Iraq's shrinking Christian community to remain in a country where they are often targeted by Muslim extremists.

The pope urged them to persevere in their efforts while assuring them that the Vatican would continue lobbying authorities to ensure respect for all of Iraq's religious faiths.

Women at a road block in Abidjan, Ivory Coast

The pope sympathized with the plight of people in troubled Ivory Coast

Bintu, a Muslim woman from the Ivory Coast, wanted to know how her country can overcome political and ethnic violence. Benedict said he was "saddened that I can do so little."

"The only path is to renounce violence, to begin anew with dialogue, with the attempt to find peace together, with a new concern for one another, a new willingness to be open to one another," he said.

On Friday, the pope presides over the traditional Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) procession around Rome's Colosseum, commemorating Christ's crucifixion. On Sunday he will deliver the "Urbi et Orbi" (to the city and the world) blessing and Easter message.

Author: Joanna Impey (AFP, dpa, Reuters)
Editor: Nancy Isenson

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