Pope Benedict XVI began a weeklong visit to Latin America yesterday denouncing the drug war that has racked Mexico and calling on Cuba’s leadership to find alternatives to Marxism.
Benedict, 84, said it was an “idolatry of money” that was fueling the violence in Mexico. He was speaking to reporters on the plane before arriving in Mexico.
The pope was met at the airport of Guanajuato state by President Felipe Calderon, the man who ordered troops onto the street to combat the drug cartels in 2006, triggering a wave of violence that has cost more than 47,000 lives.
As he walked off the plane, hundreds of people wearing white baseball caps emblazoned with Benedict’s name welcomed him with shouts of “Benerito.” He later greeted children who lined up to shake his hand and receive a blessing before driving about 30 kilometers (19 miles) to his residence along streets packed with well-wishers.
“Mexico has suffered, as your saintliness knows, savage and stark violence of criminals,” Calderon said on greeting the pope.
Benedict lay the blame for the drugs war on a moral vacuum created by the unbridled pursuit of wealth.
The “great responsibility of the church is to educate the conscience, teach moral responsibility and strip off the mask of the idolatry of money that enslaves mankind,” the pope told reporters on the plane.
Speaking to children in downtown Guanajuato today, Benedict urged Mexicans to protect their children, “so that their smile can never fade.”
The pope will spend three days in Guanajuato state. He won’t visit the country’s capital city in order to avoid its high altitude, according to Vatican officials. Mexico City decriminalized abortion in 2007 and legalized same-sex marriage and adoption in 2009.
On March 26, the Pope will move onto Cuba, where the Catholic Church has been pushing for greater spiritual, economic and political freedoms.
Is is “evident that Marxist ideology as it was conceived no longer responds to reality,” Benedict told reporters yesterday. Cubans must “find new models, with patience, and in a constructive way.”
He went on to say the church wants to promote dialogue on the communist island to “avoid trauma and to help bring about a just and fraternal society.”
The visit, the second by a pope in 14 years, is timed to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the appearance of the Virgin of Charity of Cobre, the patron of Cuba. State-run media have devoted full pages to the trip, citing various statements by former Cuban President Fidel Castro to show that difficulties with the Catholic Church have been overcome.
The pope “will be welcomed by believers and non-believers alike,” Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez told a press conference in Havana yesterday. “Those who try to obstruct the event will fail.”
The church has had to tread a fine line in Cuba between the government and dissidents.
Catholic leaders called in the police to evict 13 demonstrators from a church in Havana on March 16, with a spokesman for the local Archdiocese, Orland Marquez, calling the protest “illegitimate and irresponsible.” The protesters had requested a meeting with the pope.
Asked about Pope Benedict’s comments on Marxism, Rodriguez said the government respects “all opinions. We believe the exchange of ideas is useful. Our people have deep convictions, developed over our history that has produced many martyrs in the fight for independence.”
The pope’s visit may bolster a religious minority that’s seen its influence grow since Raul Castro assumed the presidency in 2008 from his brother, Fidel.
Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega, who was detained in the 1960s for his religious sermons, told a national audience this month that Benedict’s visit would revive faith on the island, where about half the population classify themselves as Catholic, according to surveys by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.
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