ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE, MARCH 23, 2012 (Zenit.org).- The Pope is visiting Mexico and Cuba but his message is addressed to the whole of the great Latin American sub-continent, Benedict XVI told journalists who accompanied him on the Alitalia flight to Mexico today.

The objective of the trip is to take Christ and his love to the center of history, in order to take man to the center of life, the Holy Father suggested.

L’Osservatore Romano reported that, as usual, the press conference took place at the beginning of the trip, with 72 representatives of the international press. 

The journalists’ questions referred to Mexico’s difficult situation, scourged by the destructive violence of drug trafficking, the role of the Church in the continent amid social contrasts, and debates on the legacy of “liberation theology,” the question of human rights in Cuba with reflections on the enduring precariousness of international balances with reference to the Caribbean Island, and the numerous challenges that appear on the horizon of the Church in Latin America, committed to the continental mission which began after the conference of Aparecida.

In the Footsteps of John Paul II

The first thought was for Pope John Paul II, in whose footsteps Benedict XVI has said he wishes to walk, in the sign of continuity. The times are different and the situations are also different from the social and political point of view, but the message Benedict XVI bears does not change. He wanted to return to Mexico as Pope. He knows the country as he has been there before, but also because of the many persons who every Wednesday make themselves heard during the general audience, he recalled.

Violence in Mexico

Attention then centered on the tragic situation of violence in Mexico. An issue that is not new for the Pope, who has spoken about it on several occasions with diplomatic representatives, heads of government and bishops. The last occasion was the celebration of Mass on December 12, 2011, in St. Peter’s basilica for the bicentenary of the Independence of Latin American peoples. Hence, the sense of condemnation of all forms of violence has not changed, expressed this morning in regard to the destructive role of drug trafficking. Drugs, the Pope said, destroy man, they destroy young people above all. The role of the Church in this context is to unmask evil wherever it nests. That is why it is necessary to continue proclaiming God to make Him known to the world. If he does not have this knowledge, man builds himself artificial paradises and does not discover the way of salvation.

New Liberation Theology?

The Holy Father offered a reflection on the Church’s role in the perpetuation of the phenomenon which even today -- 200 years after independence  and despite the undeniable leap forward of many continental economies -- continues to widen the gap between rich and poor. A new “theology of liberation” has been evoked, without the excesses that characterized it in the beginning.

The Church, answered the Pope, must of course question herself on what she does, to assess how she does it and if it is sufficient. However, we must recall that she is not a political party but a moral reality that educates the human person; it is also true that politics involves morality in some way. The Church enters into contact with politics. However, her mission always continues to be the education of consciences. In this field, the Pontiff revealed, noticeable among Catholics is a sort of dichotomy, in the sense that there is a profound difference between the individual’s way of behavior and the way of expressing himself and living in public. As if the faith was something to live only in the private sphere and to renege in the public sphere.

In this connection, the mission of the Church is to help men to overcome this schizophrenic behavior. Above all it is necessary to educate in building a public morality. Of course, stressed the Pope, for believers it is easier because it is about expressing the strength inscribed in the faith. In regard to the eventuality of a purified “theology of liberation,” the Pontiff stressed that the issue is simply to educate in morality.

Liberty in Cuba

In regard to the timeliness of the exhortation with which John Paul II exhorted Cubans at the end of his trip in 1998 -- “May Cuba open to the world, and may the world open to Cuba” -- and of the voices of opponents to the regime which have made themselves heard on the eve of the trip, Benedict XVI perhaps anticipated some of the things that he will say directly to Cubans, both in what refers to their internal situation, as well as what refers to the position of the international community. In this case also, the Pope stressed his desire to follow the path traced by by his predecessor.

He opened the way, a long way, and we intend to follow him, he said. The Church is always on the side of liberty, of all liberty, he concluded.

A Look at Latin America

Finally, a wider look at Latin America and the Church’s continental mission. The Pope was asked to read it in the light of the two forthcoming important ecclesial meetings: the Synod on the New Evangelization and the celebration of the Year of Faith, in a context marked by profound challenges such as secularism and the threat of sects. The New Evangelization, recalled the Pope, began with Vatican Council II. John XXIII intuited the need to take Christ to the world to all those who do not know him. John Paul II made it a reason of his pontificate. We today -- noted Benedict XVI -- find ourselves in a context of extreme rationalization and many do not know God or refuse to know him. Our task is to proclaim the God who answers the questions of our reason.

Gifts for the Pope

The meeting with journalists ended with the traditional ceremony of delivering gifts that colleagues of the Mexican press wished to give the Pope. Among them was an iPod with Mexican and classical music. “Holiness," he was told at the moment of handing it to him, "knowing your love for Twitter and your skill with technology and much more, we have thought of adding this also."