The Pope affirmed this today before praying the Angelus at midday with pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square, noting that World AIDS Day will be observed Thursday.

“My thoughts and my prayers go to all persons affected by this sickness, in particular children, to the poorest and to those who are rejected,” he said.

“The Church does not cease to combat AIDS, through her institutions and the personnel dedicated to it,” the Holy Father noted. “I exhort everyone to make their own contribution with prayer and care, so that those who are affected by the HIV virus will feel the presence of the Lord who gives support and hope.

“Finally, I hope that, by multiplying and coordinating efforts, this sickness will be halted and eradicated.”

According to the 2009 UNAIDS report, some 2 million people died of HIV/AIDS in 2008 (280,000 of those were children).

Furthermore, it estimates that 33.4 million people are living with HIV/AIDS (2.1 of whom are children), and that in 2008 there were at least 2.7 million new cases.

More than 25 million people have died of AIDS since 1981. Africa has over 14 million AIDS orphans.

VATICAN CITY, NOV. 29, 2009 (