22 March 2019
Filipinos attend a mass celebrated by Pope Francis at Manila's cathedral. Photo: Reuters
Filipinos attend a mass celebrated by Pope Francis at Manila's cathedral. Photo: Reuters

Pope tells Philippine leaders to hear cries of the poor

Pope Francis urged the Philippine government Friday to tackle corruption and hear the cries of the poor suffering from “scandalous social inequalities”, Reuters reported.

The pope went to the presidential palace for a welcoming ceremony led by President Benigno Aquino as tens of thousands of ecstatic Filipinos lined the streets.

“It is now, more than ever, necessary that political leaders be outstanding for honesty, integrity and commitment to the common good,” the pope said.

Francis later celebrated a mass in Manila’s cathedral.

He made a surprise detour from his schedule after the mass when he went across the street for a brief visit to a church-run home that cares for former street children, many of whom were once child prostitutes or members of youth gangs.

Francis was driven to the palace from the Vatican embassy in a small blue Volkswagen Touran, in keeping with his no-frills style. 

The Philippines, which is about 80 percent Catholic, has laid on the largest security operation in its history, with about 50,000 police and soldiers on hand. 

The pope urged government officials “to reject every form of corruption, which diverts resources from the poor, and to make concerted efforts to ensure the inclusion of every man and woman and child”.

Aquino has struggled to shed the country’s image as one of the most corrupt in Asia as he continues to defend his allies while chasing down politicians, bureaucrats and generals associated with the past administration, the report said.

At least 25 percent of the country of about 100 million are poor, Philippine statistics agency figures show.

“The great Biblical tradition enjoins on all peoples the duty to hear the voice of the poor,” Francis told the country’s leaders.

“It bids us break the bonds of injustice and oppression which give rise to glaring, and indeed scandalous, social inequalities. Reforming the social structures which perpetuate poverty and the exclusion of the poor first requires a conversion of mind and heart.” 

Later Friday, the pope was due to hold a rally with Filipino families.

Up to 12 million people have left the country to find work overseas. 

About half the population has been affected by decades of labour migration, and the strain has come at a great social cost.

Francis has made the defence of vulnerable migrants and workers a central issue of his papacy.

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