MEXICO CITY, Mexico (CBSMiami/AP) – Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Mexico Friday evening to start his historic pilgrimage to Latin America urging Mexicans to conquer an “idolatry of money” that feeds the violence of drug cartels. He also urged Cuba to abandon Marxism.
Mexican President Felipe Calderon and first lady Margarita Zavala greeted the pope and escorted him along a red carpet cheered by tens of thousands of people in his first visit to Spanish-speaking Latin America.
He descended the stairs without the cane he had used when he walked to the plane in Rome, the first time he had walked with it in public.
He said he was coming to Mexico as a pilgrim of hope, to encourage Mexicans to “transform the present structures and events which are less than satisfactory and seem immovable or insurmountable while also helping those who do not see meaning or a future in life.”
After the Alitalia plane carrying the pope landed, the streets of Leon took on a carnival atmospheres as the crowds and their enthusiasm grew steadily. Police blocked traffic on the central boulevard the pope would travel, and people lined up three and four deep on both sides of the avenue. Everyone stopped to watch the arrival on restaurant and shop televisions.
Benedict acknowledged the historic nature of John Paul’s first trip to Mexico – the first by any pope. The 1979 visit, just months after being elected pope and his first foreign trip, came at a time in which Mexico’s anti-religion laws were so restrictive that John Paul was technically breaking the law by wearing clerical garb in public.
Mentions of Pope John Paul II by the president and Benedict brought cheers.
John Paul also made a historic visit to Cuba in 1998, where upon his arrival in Havana he pronounced the now-famous words: “May Cuba, with all its magnificent potential, open itself up to the world, and may the world open itself up to Cuba.”
Benedict told reporters those words remain true even today, and that John Paul’s visit had launched a path of “collaboration and constructive dialogue” that continues, albeit slowly.
On Monday, Benedict will head for Cuba. He said it is “evident that Marxist ideology as it was conceived no longer responds to reality,” and he urged Cubans to “find new models, with patience, and in a constructive way.”
Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami will be traveling to Cuba, but will hold his final mass before visiting Cuba on Saturday at 5:30 p.m.
In addition, the public can attend a “Stand Up For Religious Freedom Rally,” that take place Friday afternoon in Downtown Miami and in Fort Lauderdale.