Pope Francis has told Philippine leaders to reject the endemic corruption that has plagued the island nation for decades and instead work to end what he called the “scandalous” poverty and social injustices that afflict its people.
Francis made the comments Friday during a speech to President Benigno Aquino and other officials on his first full day of a five-day visit to Asia’s only majority Roman Catholic country.
The pope, who arrived Thursday, travelled to Malacanang presidential palace for an official welcoming ceremony led by President Aquino. Francis told those gathered that his visit was meant to express his closeness to the people who endured the suffering, loss and devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan.
Francis will visit the central province of Leyte to meet survivors of the devastating typhoon that struck in November 2013.
The highlight of the pope’s trip will be a huge open air Mass on Sunday in Manila, where some six million people are expected to turn out.
During his flight to Manila from Sri Lanka, Pope Francis spoke to reporters about last week’s terrorist attacks in France. He defended freedom of expression as a fundamental human right, but said “you can not provoke or insult the faith of others.”
The pope used as an example Alberto Gasparri, who organizes papal trips and was standing by his side. He said if Gasparri uttered a curse word about his mother, he can expect “a punch.”
Pope Francis also said he is convinced global warming is mostly man-made, and that he hopes an upcoming climate change conference in Paris will take a courageous stand to protect the environment. He said man has exploited nature.
The pontiff’s visit to the Philippines, a nation of 80 million Roman Catholics, is the first since Pope John Paul the Second’s in 1995.
Philippine authorities have assembled a security force of nearly 50,000 soldiers and police to protect Pope Francis. The two other popes to visit the Philippines were both targets of assassination attempts.
In Sri Lanka, Pope Francis called for unity and forgiveness during a sermon in the Tamil-dominated north, where rebels fought an unsuccessful 25-year war for independence.