Pope Benedict has arrived in Mexico for a five-day Latin America trip that also will take him to Cuba.
Church bells rang out as the papal plane touched Friday down at Guanajuato International Airport. Mexican President Felipe Calderon and flag-waving guests were waiting on the runway to greet the 84-year-old pontiff.
While on board his plane, the pope told reporters that the Church must do all it can do to prevent young people in Mexico from joining drug cartels. He said a lust for money was behind the country's drug violence.
He also said that the Catholic Church is ready to help Cuba move away from communism, saying the Marxist ideology no longer corresponds to reality. He said the Church is willing to help Cuba move ahead without "trauma."
This is the pope's first visit to both Mexico and Cuba.
Pope Benedict's trip to Latin America
- March 23 - Arrives in Leon, Mexico
- March 24 - Meets with Mexican President Felipe Calderon in Leon
- March 25 - Celebrates mass in Leon and meets with Mexican Latin American bishop
- March 26 - Travels to Santiago de Cuba, meets with Cuban President Raul Castro
- March 27 - Vists Havana
- March 28 - Departs Cuba for the Vatican
On Sunday, Benedict will preside over a massive outdoor Mass in the central Mexican city of Leon. He is not expected to generate the excitement made by his predecessor, the late John Paul II, who was revered in the predominantly Roman Catholic nation.
The visit also is being overshadowed by the bloody drug war that has left about 50,000 people dead since Calderon launched a crackdown on the drug cartels shortly after taking office in 2006. The Vatican's diplomatic representative to Mexico, Christopher Pierre, said Benedict will urge the faithful to look beyond the violence that has gripped the country.
''Yes, we speak of violence, as well, we cannot hide it, but I can tell you as representative of the Holy Pope in this country for five years, there is a lot more in Mexico than violence,'' said Pierre.
The Church is under pressure from the growing rise of Protestant churches in Mexico, as well as a scandal involving the late priest Marcial Maciel, who founded the prominent Catholic order the Legionaries of Christ. Maciel died before he faced allegations of drug addiction and molesting young boys.
A small crowd of people protested Thursday in Leon against the Church's handling of the sexual abuse cases that have plagued the Church around the world.
''It is unbelievable that here, the law does not have any effect. In the United States, two years ago, people denounced thousands of abuses and they got paid $450 million for abuses against minors, but here the law does not exist,'' said Francisco Rojas.
The pope is expected to meet with Calderon while in Leon. For the Cuba portion of the trip, the pontiff is expected to meet with President Raul Castro and visit Santiago de Cuba and Havana, before leaving for the Vatican on March 28.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.