On March 23, Pope Benedict held a press conference as his jet flew from Italy to the Americas. Before landing in Guanajuato state in Mexico, he spoke to reporters and answered questions from some of the 70 reporters onboard on a wide range of subjects, from drug trafficking and violence in Mexico to the social situation in Cuba and new evangelisation on the Latin American continent.
The Pope noted that his journey was taking him in the footsteps of John Paul II, who had made five visits to Mexico and one to Cuba, and that he hoped to continue the work begun by his predecessor. "I share the joys and hopes, but also the suffering and difficulties" of the Mexican people, he said. "I am going to bring encouragement but also to learn, to bring comfort in faith, hope and love; a commitment to goodness and to the struggle against evil. Let us hope that the Lord will help us".
A Mexican journalist asked the Pope how the Church in Mexico can help to resolve the problem of drug trafficking, which has caused more than 50,000 deaths in the last five years. Pope Benedict replied: "we are well aware of the beauty of Mexico, but also of this great problem of drug trafficking and violence. This is certainly a great responsibility for the Catholic Church in a country that is 80 per cent Catholic. We must do everything we can against this evil, which is so destructive of humanity and of our young people. The first thing is to announce God. God the judge. God Who loves us, but Who asks us to abide in goodness and truth, and to reject evil.
"Therefore, one great responsibility the Church has is to educate people to moral responsibility and to unmask evil, to unmask the idolatry of money which enslaves man. ... We must remember that men and women need the infinite. If there is no God, they replace Him by creating their own heavens, a seeming infinity which is really only a lie. This is why it is so important for God to be present and accessible. ... In this way the Church can unmask evil, making people aware of God's goodness, His truth, authentic infinity. This is the great duty facing the Church".
Another Mexican journalist pointed out that great social inequalities persist in Latin America and that the at times the Catholic Church is not sufficiently encouraged to intervene in this field.
"The Church must of course ask if she does enough for social justice on that great continent", the Pope replied. "It is a question of conscience which we must always pose ourselves. ... What must the Church do? What can she not do? What must she not do? The Church is not a political power, she is not a party but a moral entity, a moral power. ... I reiterate what I have already said. The Church's first concern is to educate minds in both individual and public ethics, thus creating the necessary sense of responsibility. Here perhaps there are some shortcomings. In Latin America, as elsewhere, no small number of Catholics show a kind of schizophrenia between individual and public morals. ... We must educate people to overcome this schizophrenia, educate them not only in ... individual morality, but also in public morality. This we must seek to do with the social doctrine of the Church because, of course, such public morality must be a reasonable morality, shared and shareable by non believers. We, of course, in the light of faith can better see many things that are also visible to reason, but it is faith which serves to liberate reason from the false interests that cloud it. Thus we must use social doctrine to create fundamental policy models, and so ... overcome these divisions".
Another journalist recalled the words used by John Paul II on his trip to Cuba, "may Cuba open to the world and, and may the world open to Cuba", and noted that many defenders of human rights had spoken out in anticipation of Benedict XVI's visit to the island.
The Pope reiterated the continuity of his ideas with the words of John Paul II "which are still highly relevant". The visit marked, he said, "the beginning of a journey of collaboration and constructive dialogue, a long journey which requires patience but which is moving forward. It is clear today that Marxist ideology as it was conceived no longer responds to reality. ... In order to build a new society new models must be discovered, patiently and constructively. In this process, which requires patience but also firmness, we wish to make our contribution in a spirit of dialogue, in order to avoid traumas and facilitate the way to a fraternal and just society for all people. Obviously, the Church is always on the side of freedom, freedom of conscience, freedom of religion. ... The faithful can also contribute to the progress of this journey".
Finally the Pope responded to a question about new evangelisation in Latin America, in the light of the Aparecida Conference.
"The path of new evangelization began with Vatican Council II. This was the fundamental intention of Blessed John XXIII, it was also emphasized by John Paul II and its importance in a world undergoing such great changes has become even more evident. The Gospel must be expressed in new was. ... There is a condition which exists throughout the world: secularization, the absence of God, the difficulty of seeing Him as a reality which concerns us"
He continued, " ... It is today, in the context of modern day rationality, that we can rediscover God as a fundamental guide for life, the fundamental hope for life, the foundation of the values upon which our society rests. ... I think it is very important to announce a God Who responds to our reason. ... However, we also have to take account of concrete reality. It is important to bear in mind that, in Latin America as a whole, religion is a question not of reason but of the heart. ... Yet this intuition of the heart must be linked to the rationality of faith, and to the profundity of faith that goes beyond reason. We must not lose the heart, but unite heart and reason, ... only in this way is the human being complete".