ROME (Reuters) - A remark by Pope Francis to the effect that he hoped his homeland Argentina could avoid "Mexicanization" was not intended to offend Mexicans or to undervalue the government's efforts to fight drug trafficking, the Vatican said on Wednesday.
Mexico's Foreign Minister Jose Antonio Meade complained this week that the remark, made by the pope in an email to the head of an Argentinian human rights group, risked stigmatizing Mexico, where tens of thousands have died in drug-related violence in recent years.
The Vatican said in a statement that it had informed Mexico's ambassador to the Holy See that the "pope had absolutely no intention of offending the feelings of the Mexican people, whom he loves very much, nor to ignore the commitment of the Mexican government to fighting drug trafficking."
According to a report last year from the Pew Research Center, a Washington-based think tank, more than 80 percent of Mexicans are Catholic.
"The expression 'avoiding Mexicanization' was used by the pope in a strictly private and informal email, in reply to an Argentinian friend, who is very involved in the fight against drugs and who had used this phrase," it said.
The email, published by Argentine human rights group La Alameda, showed the Argentine-born pope apparently referring to the risk of Mexican-style drug violence reaching Argentina.
"Hopefully we're in time to avoid the Mexicanization. I was talking to some Mexican bishops and it's a terrible situation," the organization quoted the pope as saying in a message sent to its head Gustavo Vera.
More than 100,000 people have been killed in drug cartel violence in Mexico since 2007. In September 2014, 43 students were murdered by police in league with a drug gang in an incident which drew shocked headlines across the world and seriously embarrassed the Mexican government.
The Vatican said the pope intended only to highlight the gravity of the drug trafficking problem in Mexico and other Latin American countries.
"It is precisely because of this gravity that the fight against drugs is a priority for the government; to confront violence and return peace and serenity to Mexican families, acting on the causes which are at the root of this plague," the Vatican said.
Reporting by James Mackenzie; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky