VATICAN CITY (RNS) Pope Benedict XVI on Friday (March 23) urged Cuba's communist government to look for "new models" beyond its "Marxist ideology," saying it is clear that Marxism "no longer responds to reality."
Speaking on the plane taking him to Mexico for his first visit to Spanish-speaking Latin America, the pontiff also stressed that though the church "is not a political power," Catholics must do more to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor and to promote "social justice."
The plane carrying Benedict and his staff, as well as around 70 Vatican-accredited journalists, left Friday morning from Rome. After a 14-hour flight, the pope will arrive in Guanajuato, Mexico, where he will stay for three days before moving on to Cuba.
Asked about the situation in Cuba after recent timid steps toward reform, the pope recalled John Paul II's first visit to the island, in 1998, which opened a "way of cooperation and dialogue" between the church and the Cuban government.
It is a "long road that requires patience, but that leads forward," he added, according to media reports and a Vatican Radio report.
Even though no meeting with dissidents is scheduled on the island, Benedict stressed that "the church is always on the side of freedom" of conscience and religion.
Referring to Mexico's "enormous" drug-trafficking problem, Benedict said the church must work to "unmask" this "evil," which is "destructive of mankind and (especially) of our youth."
More coverage of Benedict's trip to Mexico and Cuba:
- Cuban dissidents attend Mass, hold protest, day before pope's arrival , March 25
- Pope greets Mexicans affected by notorious crimes ,March 25
- Trust in God to help change society, pope says in Mexico's heartland ,March 25
- Book released as Pope arrives in Mexcio says: Ratzinger altered canon law to soften Maciel punishment , by Jason Berry March 24
- Pope arrives in Mexico as 'pilgrim of faith, of hope, and of love' ,March 23
- Waiting for the pope: Vatican flags, human wall -- and hope for peace ,March 23
- Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Cuba benefits both Vatican and the Castros , March 23
- Pope tells Cubans to look beyond Marxism , March 23
- The pope in Mexico and Cuba , John Allen's weekly column. March 23
- Pope to find mixed political messages in Mexico trip , March 22