Pope's Words Offer Guarded Hope For Some Believers

Roman Catholic believers and leaders in parts of the world most stricken by AIDS drew hope from Pope Benedict XVI's recent comments on condoms, even if the Vatican took pains to explain that nothing has changed about its policy on contraception.

For those focused on battling the scourge of AIDS, the Pope's message that condoms could be used in some limited cases came as a welcome surprise. Father Peter Makome, a Catholic priest in Zimbabwe, said he would spread the news.

""I've got brothers and sisters and friends who are suffering from HIV because they were not practicing safe sex,"" said Makome, who works in the capital Harare's Southerton Parish. ""Now the message has come out that they can go ahead and do safe sex; it's much better for everyone.""

Speaking to a German journalist whose book was excerpted in a Vatican newspaper Saturday, the pontiff reiterated that condoms are not a moral solution for stopping AIDS. But in some cases, such as for male prostitutes, he said their use could represent a first step in assuming moral responsibility ""in the intention of reducing the risk of infection.""

Sex worker Constance Makoni, from the town of Mbare in Zimbabwe, said she was pleased to hear the Pope's message. She said she uses condoms to protect herself against HIV, even though it is against her beliefs.

In South Africa, which has an estimated 5.7 million HIV-positive citizens — more people than any other country — and 500,000 new infections each year, activists guardedly greeted the pope's message. "