- Associated Press - Friday, April 22, 2011

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Benedict XVI told a 7-year-old Japanese girl frightened by the devastating quake and tsunami in her homeland that suffering isn’t in vain as he conducted an unprecedented Q and A on television to mark Good Friday.

Benedict, in a prerecorded appearance on Italian state TV, replied to some of a few thousand questions submitted by Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

Good Friday is the solemn day when Christians reflect on the suffering and crucifixion of Christ.

Most of the questions grapple with suffering. The first question posed came from Elena, a Japanese girl who told the pope many children her age were killed and asked why children have to be so sad.

“I also have the same questions: Why is it this way? Why do you have to suffer so much while others live in ease?” Benedict said. “And we do not have the answers but we know that Jesus suffered as you do, an innocent.”

Trying for words of comfort, the pope told her that “even if we are still sad, God is by your side.”

He said the girl should tell herself: “One day, I will understand that this suffering was not empty, it wasn’t in vain, but behind it was a good plan, a plan of love.”

The second question came from a woman whose middle-aged son has been in a vegetative state since Easter 2009, and who wanted to know if his soul had left his body.

Benedict assured the mother that his soul is “still present in his body,” comparing the situation to a guitar with broken strings. “The instrument of the body is fragile like that, it is vulnerable, and the soul cannot play, so to speak, but remains present,” the pope told her, adding: “I am also sure that his hidden soul feels your love deep down.”