Pope Benedict XVI has condemned the Mexican drug wars and related violence that have cost tens of thousands of lives, just ahead of his much anticipated six-day visit to Mexico and Cuba.

Speaking to reporters on an Alitalia flight on Friday, the pope urged people in Mexico to fight this evil [drug trafficking] which destroys our young and to put an end to the greed that lies at the heart of the drug culture.

Almost 50,000 people have died in Mexico since the state initiated a crackdown on drug cartels six years ago.

Benedict said the great responsibility of the church is to educate the conscience, teach moral responsibility and strip off the mask [from] the idolatry of money that enslaves mankind, and unmask the false promise, this lie that is behind [drugs].”

The Pope will journey to Cuba to Monday where he is expected to persuade the Communist regime to provide more freedoms for its people. Regarding Cuba, Benedict told journalists in Italy that it is evident that Marxist ideology as it was conceived no longer responds to reality. So you have to find new models, with patience, and in a constructive way… This process requires patience and also decisiveness.

The Pope also referred to reports that Cuban authorities have been cracking down on dissidents ahead of the papal visit.

Benedict said the church seeks 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.

He added: We want to collaborate in this sense, and it's obvious that the church is always on the side on the side of freedom, freedom of conscience, freedom of religion.”

Pope Benedict’s predecessor, John Paul II, made a historic trip to Cuba in 1998, calling for reforms in the country, while also condemning U.S. sanctions on the Communist state.

Separately, there are health concerns surrounding Pope Benedict who will turn 85 years old soon. The Holy Father has been using canes and wheeled platforms to get around, although the Vatican has said that these devices are simply being used by the Pope to save his energy.