En route to Latin America for his second papal visit to the region, Pope Benedict called for patience with the Catholic Church's effort to promote freedom in communist Cuba and criticized Catholics who participate in illegal drug trade or who ignore their moral responsibilities to seek social justice.
The pope, flying to Mexico March 23, followed his usual practice of taking a few preselected questions from reporters on the papal plane.
Responding to a question about human rights in Cuba, where he will arrive March 26 and where opposition leaders have been arrested after publicly appealing for a meeting with him, Pope Benedict said that the "church is always on the side of freedom -- freedom of conscience, freedom of religion."
"Marxist idolatry as it was conceived no longer responds to the truth today; we can no longer respond this way to construct a society," the pope said.
But the pope said that the "path of collaboration and constructive dialogue," which his predecessor Blessed John Paul II initiated with the communist regime, "is long and demands patience."
"We want to help in the spirit of dialogue to avoid the trauma and to help move toward a fraternal and just society" in Cuba, he said.
In answer to a question about Latin America's dramatic inequalities of wealth, Pope Benedict lamented what he called a widespread moral "schizophrenia" that stresses personal morality while ignoring social conscience.
"The first job of the church is to educate consciences ... both in individual ethics and public ethics," the pope said.
To a reporter from Mexico, who said the fighting among traffickers has killed an estimated 50,000 people over the past five years, Pope Benedict said that the church has a responsibility to "unmask evil, unmask the idolatry of money that enslaves man" as well as the "false promises, the lie, the swindle that lie behind drugs."
After a 14-hour flight from Rome to Mexico, the pope was scheduled to visit the Archdiocese of Leon March 23-26. The flight will have taken him across eight time zones, to a city 6,000 feet above sea level. From Mexico, he will fly to Cuba, to visit Santiago de Cuba and Havana March 26-28. He will arrive back in Rome March 29 after a 10-hour flight.
He will meet with Mexican President Felipe Calderon, Cuban President Raul Castro and bishops and Catholics from the region. He also will greet bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean as well as pray at the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre in Cuba.
It will be his third visit to the Americas, after the United States in 2008 and Brazil in 2007.