Pope Benedict appears in TV question-and-answer show

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Media captionThe Pope answered questions on issues such as why people have to suffer

Pope Benedict XVI has made history as the first pontiff to take part in a televised question-and-answer session.

The pre-recorded programme was broadcast on the Italian Rai channel on Good Friday afternoon.

Seven questions were chosen from thousands submitted for the Pope to answer during the 80-minute programme.

Most of the questions, from people across the world, dealt with the struggle with suffering.

TV viewers saw a split screen, with the Pope sitting in the Vatican library and those asking the questions filmed near their homes.

The first question was asked by a seven-year-old Japanese girl traumatised by the recent devastating earthquake and tsunami.

She asked why she and other children should have to feel afraid. The Pope replied that he had also asked himself the same question.

"We do not have the answers but we know that Jesus suffered as you do," he said.

Another question came from the Italian mother of a boy in a long-term coma. She asked if he still had a soul, to which the Pope replied that, yes, his soul is still present in his body.

"The situation, perhaps, is like that of a guitar whose strings have been broken and therefore can no longer play," he said.

"The instrument of the body is fragile like that, it is vulnerable, and the soul cannot play, so to speak, but remains present."

To a Muslim woman in the Ivory Coast who asked his advice about how to cope with the conflict that has afflicted her country, he said people should look to Christ as an example of peace.

"Violence never comes from God, never helps bring anything good, but is a destructive means and not the path to escape difficulties," he said.

He told Christian students in Iraq - when asked how to encourage fellow Christians not to flee the country - that the Church was encouraging dialogue between religions.

'Crazy' idea

The BBC's Duncan Kennedy, watching the programme, said it would be viewed by critics as very controlled and a little sanitised.

There was no opportunity to ask tough questions of the Church, such as about the priestly sex scandals that overshadowed the Church's Easter celebrations last year.

But the Vatican will have viewed it as a first step in their overall effort to be more accountable and transparent, arising from accusations that the Church was failing to be open about the abuse scandal, our correspondent adds.

Until now, he has only ever taken questions from journalists on planes during foreign trips.

The programme was recorded in the Vatican library a week ago, and was timed to go out on Good Friday afternoon - around the time Jesus is traditionally believed to have taken his last breath.

The show's host Rosario Carello said the project initially seemed "crazy", but they saw "something in Pope Benedict's style that caused them to at least propose this idea to him".

"We proposed it and he accepted," he is reported by the Catholic News Agency as saying.

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