pope_benedict_xvi_web.jpgABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE (AP) — Pope Benedict XVI set off on a pilgrimage to the New World on Friday, calling on Mexicans to conquer an “idolatry of money” that feeds drug violence and urging Cuba to leave behind a Marxism that “no longer responds to reality.”

Benedict spoke to reporters aboard a special Alitalia flight carrying him to central Mexico, where a swelling crowd gathered along the route he took from the airport later in the day. The pope said a lust for money was behind the drug violence that has claimed more than 47,000 lives in the country since a government crackdown began in 2006.

On Monday, Benedict headed for Cuba. He said it was “evident that Marxist ideology as it was conceived no longer responds to reality.” He urged Cubans to “find new models, with patience, and in a constructive way.”

The comment about Marxism, in response to questions from a journalist, was as blunt as anything Benedict’s predecessor, John Paul II, made during his groundbreaking 1998 trip to Cuba, though the earlier pope is widely credited with helping bring down socialism in eastern Europe.

Benedict cautioned that “this process requires patience and also decisiveness.”

Asked about reports that dissidents in Cuba were still routinely harassed and arrested, including in the weeks leading up to his visit, Benedict said that the church wants “to help in the spirit of dialogue to avoid trauma and to help bring about a just and fraternal society, as we want in the whole world.”

Photo: Pope Benedict XVI