LEON, Mexico – Pope Benedict XVI traveled to Mexico on Friday, urging the nation’s Catholics to resist the temptations of violent drug traffickers and calling for change in Cuba.
This is Benedict’s first voyage to the Spanish-speaking Americas; after three days in Mexico, he continues to Cuba, the first pope to visit the communist-ruled island in 14 years.
Landing on a Friday afternoon in Mexico’s conservative and traditionally Catholic midsection, Benedict was greeted by President Felipe Calderon.
Adding to the festivities were a mariachi band and thousands of mostly youthful pilgrims, as well as entire families, from various Mexican states and as far away as California, who lined the 20-mile stretch that the “pope mobile” traveled to carry the pontiff into the heart of the city.
Speaking on the Alitalia jet that brought him to Mexico, Benedict condemned the “evil” behind drug-war violence that has claimed tens of thousands of lives here. And he said the church, often criticized for its complacency, has a duty to steer Mexicans from the “idolatry of money” that fuels the drug business.
“It is the responsibility of the church to educate consciences, to teach moral responsibility and to unmask the evil,” he said, “to unmask this idolatry of money that enslaves man, to unmask the false promises, the lies, the fraud that is behind drugs.”
Benedict has come to Guanajuato state, which has escaped the worst of the violence plaguing much of the country. But, in a sign of the omnipresence of cartels, nearly a dozen banners were hung in the area before his arrival pledging to keep the peace during the pope’s visit.
Benedict also had pointed words for the Cuban government, which has promoted serious economic change but continues to repress dissent.
On Monday, Benedict travels to Santiago and Havana, Cuba. Asked by a reporter on the flight from Rome about his visit to the communist island – the first by a pope since John Paul II’s historic trip to Havana in 1998 – Benedict said Cuba had to find “new models.”
“Today it is evident that Marxist ideology, in the way it was conceived, no longer corresponds to reality,” he said. “In this way, we can no longer respond and build a society. New models must be found with patience and in a constructive way.”