Updated: April 21, 2015 07:34 PM GMT
Pope Francis speaks during a Mass for local Catholic leaders at Manila Cathedral on Friday (AFP Photo/Giuseppe Cacace)
Pope Francis urged Filipinos on Friday to "reject every form of corruption which diverts resources from the poor".
In a meeting with government leaders, the pontiff said what is essential to the attainment of national goals "is the moral imperative of ensuring social justice and respect for human dignity".
He reminded government leaders of their "duty to hear the voice of the poor" and "break the bonds of injustice and oppression which give rise to glaring, and indeed scandalous, social inequalities".
He said everyone should reject every form of corruption and make concerted efforts "to ensure the inclusion of every man, woman and child in the life of the community".
"Reforming the social structures which perpetuate poverty and the exclusion of the poor first requires a conversion of mind and heart," he added.
Corruption in the Philippines, Asia's most Catholic country, is considered to be the worst among East Asia’s leading economies, according to a World Bank study in 2008.
In 2012, the Philippines came in at 105 with a 3.4 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) score on Transparency International's list that ranks 176 countries and territories based on how corrupt their public sector is perceived to be.
The CPI score indicates the perceived level of public sector corruption on a scale of zero to 10, where zero means that a country is perceived as highly corrupt and 10 means that a country is perceived as very clean.
In 2013, the US Department of State Investment Climate Statement noted that corruption exists at all levels of the Philippine government, especially among top government officials.
Public outcry against a government ‘pork barrel’ scheme has sparked large-scale protests and arrests of government officials over the last two years.
Youth groups hailed Pope Francis for delivering a "succinct and powerful message" to the nation.
"We laud and thank Pope Francis for speaking the truth to power. Amidst a sea of plunderers and traitors to the nation, he taught us how to truly care for the nation and the people," said Einstein Recedes, spokesman of the Student Christian Movement of the Philippines.
"The pope’s valiant move to speak to the almost-nonexistent conscience of the top officials of our nation endears us even more to him," Recedes added.
Victor Villanueva, leader of the group Youth Act Now, said that Francis' strong words against corruption are a "testament to how the pope truly knows the ills of Philippine society".
"Filipino youth accept the challenge of the pope. Your words give us more strength to continue the fight against poverty and oppression," said Terry Ridon, a representative of the youth sector in the Philippine Congress.
Pope Francis arrived in Manila on Thursday night for a pastoral visit that will take him to the central Philippines province of Leyte, which was devastated by Super Typhoon Haiyan (known as Yolanda in the Philippines) in 2013.
"This visit is meant to express my closeness to our brothers and sisters who endured the suffering, loss and devastation caused by Typhoon Yolanda," the pontiff said in his address to government officials.
Pope Francis expressed his admiration for the "heroic strength, faith and resilience demonstrated by so many Filipinos" in the face of natural disasters.
In a press briefing on the papal plane to Manila, the pontiff said the central message of his trip will be the poor, "those who want to carry on, the poor who suffered from Yolanda, and are still suffering the consequences”.
"I think of the poor who are exploited, those who suffer many injustices, material, spiritual and existential," he added.
Earlier on Thursday, civil society groups held a protest to call the attention of the pontiff to "unresolved social problems".
Baby Reyes, spokeswoman of Rights Network, a non-governmental organization working for the welfare of typhoon victims, said government solutions to long-standing problems of the poor "have become remote possibilities".
Panalipdan, an environmental advocacy group in Mindanao, appealed to the pope to support the passage of a law that "will help in the protection of forest areas which have been destroyed so much by large-scale mining corporations".
"The pope must see the impending ecological crises looming in Mindanao, the ongoing expansion of foreign-owned plantations, which not only displaces farmers from their lands, but adversely affect the environment," said Kim Gargar, a Panalipdan spokesman.
"We endear the pope to hear the cry of the many landless Filipinos as they are the true stewards of the forests and plains," Gargar said.
Pope Francis celebrated Mass, which was attended by the country's bishops, priests and religious, at Manila's Immaculate Conception Cathedral on Friday.
The pontiff urged the Church in the Philippines "to acknowledge and combat the causes of the deeply rooted inequality and injustice which mar the face of Filipino society, plainly contradicting the teaching of Christ".
He warned Church leaders of materialism "which can creep into our lives". He said that only "by becoming poor ourselves, by stripping away our complacency, will we be able to identify with the least of our brothers and sisters".
Pope Francis urged the country's bishops, priests and religious "to be present to those who, live in the midst of a society burdened by poverty and corruption".
The pontiff will meet Filipino Catholic families sent by their respective parishes during a special gathering at a sports stadium late Friday before flying to Leyte province on Saturday to meet with victims of Typhoon Haiyan, which left 7,350 people dead or missing in 2013.
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