Pope Francis dodges question of condoms in AIDS fight

Pope Francis kisses a child as he visits the refugee camp of Saint Sauveur in the capital Bangui, Central African Republic, November 29, 2015. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE - Pope Francis has dismissed a question about whether condoms can be condoned in the fight against AIDS by saying there are more important issues confronting the world, like malnutrition, environmental exploitation and the lack of safe drinking water.

Francis was asked about the church's opposition to condoms while returning Monday to Rome from Kenya, Uganda and the Central African Republic. Africa in general and Kenya and Uganda in particular have been hard-hit by the AIDS epidemic, and the Catholic Church has faced criticism that its position has contributed to the problem.

Francis' predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, earned the wrath of health care professionals, gay rights activists and the U.N. by saying on a visit to Africa that condoms weren't the answer to fighting HIV and can actually make it worse.

Also during his return from Africa, Pope Francis said he hopes to add the key Mexico-U.S. border city of Juarez to his Mexico itinerary next year, confirming the trip will have a strong immigration theme.

Francis said he would begin his trip in the capital, Mexico City, to pray before the Virgin of Guadalupe "the mother of the Americas."

He said he planned to visit Chiapas on Mexico's southern border with Guatemala, where many Central African migrants pass through en route to the United States. He said he was "almost sure" that he would end his visit in Ciudad Juarez, on Mexico's northern border with the U.S. In between, he said he would stop in Morelia.

Church officials have said the trip will begin Feb. 12.

Francis also said he planned to return to Brazil in 2017 to mark a special feast of the Virgin of Aparecida, and that other countries on that trip are likely. He has yet to return to his native Argentina, and a planned Argentina-Uruguay-Chile trip rumored for 2016 has apparently been scrapped.

In other travel, Francis said he has promised the patriarchs of Armenia that he would visit, but no date has been discussed.