The Vatican on Wednesday issued a statement clarifying a private comment made by Pope Francis to a friend warning that his native Argentina was in danger of a “Mexicanization” by drug traffickers.

“The Pope did not in any way intend to offend the Mexican population, for whom he holds special affection, nor to underestimate the commitment of the Mexican government in its fight against narco-trafficking,” Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi told journalists in a statement.

Controversy broke out in Mexico following the publication of the Pope’s comments, which prompted a protest from Mexican citizens, who claimed that Francis was stigmatizing the country and being dismissive of government efforts to dismantle drug cartels.

Pope Francis had originally made his remarks in a “strictly private and informal” email to his Argentinian friend Gustavo Vera, in which he voiced concern surrounding the increase in drug activity in Argentina.

In the email, Francis told Vera that “I hope we (in Argentina) can avoid Mexicanization. I have spoken with Mexican bishops and it is a terrifying reality,” according to news reports.

Fr. Lombardi noted in his declaration that Vera is “deeply involved in the battle against drug abuse,” and had used the phrase himself. Vera also heads a non-governmental organization called “Alameda,” which is dedicated to fighting drug trafficking and organized crime.

The Vatican Secretariat of State sent a Feb. 24 note to Mexico’s ambassador to the Holy See, Mariano Palacios Alcocer, clarifying the Pope’s use of the term, which was not meant to offend or provoke.

The note makes it evident that “the Pope intended only to emphasize the seriousness of the phenomenon of the drug trafficking that afflicts Mexico and other countries in Latin America,” Fr. Lombardi said.

The severity of the problem is what has made the fight against drug trafficking a key priority for the Mexican government, who are working to “combat violence and restore peace and serenity” to Mexican families by going to the roots of the problem, he said.

Mexico has been plagued by drug violence for years, and cartels have extended their reach to other countries throughout the world.

Last September, 43 college students in Mexico disappeared while on their way to a protest, and are believed to have been killed by a drug gang after being handed over to them by corrupt police officials.

The college students’ disappearance prompted national rioting and major protests, with citizens calling for an end to the violence entrenching the nation and stronger policies for fighting drug trafficking.

Mexico’s bishops also issued a statement following the tragedy, in which they said that “enough is enough!” as far as the incessant violence goes, and encouraged citizens to help build a society rooted in justice.

In June of last year, Pope Francis accepted an invitation from Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto to visit the country, although the dates of the trip are still unknown.

After his 25 minute meeting with the Pope June 7, during which the Pope conceded to the visit, President Peña Nieto said that Francis has “a special affection for the Mexican people,” and expressed hope that the visit would come soon.