Andrew Medichini / AP
Pope Benedict XVI waves as he boards a plane on his way to a six-day visit to Mexico and Cuba, at Rome's Fiumicino international airport, on Friday
ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE -- Pope Benedict said on Friday communism no longer works in Cuba and the Catholic Church was ready to help the island find new ways of moving forward without "trauma."
Speaking on the plane taking him from Rome for a trip to Mexico and Cuba, the pope told reporters: "Today it is evident that Marxist ideology in the way it was conceived no longer corresponds to reality."
Responding to a question about his visit to the island, a communist bastion 90 miles off the coast of the United States for more than 50 years, Benedict added: "New models must be found with patience and in a constructive way...we want to help."
Benedict, who is due to arrive in Cuba on Monday after a three-day visit to Mexico, called for freedom of conscience and freedom of religion on the island.
Also on Friday, Benedict promised to "unmask the evil" of drug trafficking in Mexico, which has been wracked by a surge in gang violence over the past five years.
'We are all fed up'
The pope gave a forceful response when asked on board his plane about drug trafficking in Mexico, which has generated violence claiming some 50,000 lives since 2007.
"We must do whatever is possible to combat this destructive evil against humanity and our youth," he told reporters. "It is the responsibility of the Church to educate consciences, to teach moral responsibility and to unmask the evil, to unmask this idolatry of money which enslaves man, to unmask the false promises, the lies, the fraud that is behind drugs."
The relentless bloodletting was in the mind of many of those waiting to see Benedict in Leon, a Roman Catholic stronghold that has avoided the worst of the brutal turf wars between drug cartels and clashes with security forces.
"The Church has to address the violence, give us a message that there can be change. We are all fed up, our society has been hurt," said Ruben Santibanez, a local doctor.
Christophe Pierre, the Vatican's diplomatic representative in Mexico, said Benedict would not ignore Mexico's plight.
"Violence is being talked about, we can't hide it, but there is a lot more to Mexico than the violence, and the desire to live in harmony is precisely what the Holy Father is coming for," he said on Thursday.
Crowds of devout Mexicans readied campsites in Leon in preparation for a massive outdoor mass on Sunday where hundreds of thousands of people are expected.
Benedict hopes to rally the faithful in the world's second most populous Catholic nation as more Mexicans are lured to evangelical Protestant churches.
But the German pope faces a challenge generating the same kind of fervor as his charismatic Polish predecessor, Pope John Paul, who was beloved in Latin America and drew pulsating crowds whenever he criss-crossed the region during his 27-year papacy.
Highlighting the growing religious divisions in Mexico, a large Protestant church in Leon held a service with hundreds of worshipers on Thursday, prominently displaying a sign that read "We are not Roman Catholics."
The Vatican has been stung by accusations of child abuse by priests in parishes around the world - including revelations about Mexican religious leader Marcial Maciel, who founded a prominent Catholic order, the Legionaries of Christ.
Maciel, who died in 2008 at the age of 87, was disgraced by allegations of sexual abuse and drug addiction.
During the pope's visit, religious scholar Bernardo Barranco will present a new book by ex-Legionaries with scores of leaked Vatican documents the authors say prove the Holy See knew about Maciel's molestation of young boys and morphine use for decades.
The hacker group Anonymous in Mexico crashed at least two of the websites for Benedict's visit to Mexico on Thursday, claiming his trip is a political move to support the president's party.
Anonymous Mexico said in a video posted on social media sites that the pope's visit will cost Mexicans money that could be better spent on the poor, and is meant to support the PAN in the July 1 presidential election. PAN candidate Josefina Vazquez Mota trails front-runner Enrique Pena Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party by at least 10 percentage points in most polls.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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