Pope Francis has issued the first social manifesto of his young pontificate, telling slum dwellers in Brazil that the world's rich must do much more to wipe out vast inequalities between the haves and the have-nots.

History's first Latin American pope, in a speech on Thursday to residents of Manguinhos, blasted the "culture of selfishness and individualism" that persists in the world and encouraged efforts in Brazil to end hunger and poverty.

"No one can remain insensitive to the inequalities that persist in the world," he said.

His speech, under rains that have persisted throughout most of his first trip abroad as pope, comes halfway through a week-long visit around World Youth Day, a gathering of young Catholics that is expected to attract more than a million faithful to Rio de Janeiro and nearby sites.

Tens of thousands of rapturous Brazilians and foreign visitors have turned out to welcome the 76-year-old pope. 

In Manguinhos, Francis, an Argentine known for frequent outings into the slums near Buenos Aires even as a Cardinal, smiled and visibly enjoyed the close contact allowed with some of the residents there.

He called for more efforts to end poverty and said the authorities must do more than just crack down on the drug trade to ensure opportunities for those at the bottom of the economic ladder.

"Everybody, according to his or her particular opportunities and responsibilities, should be able to make a personal contribution to putting an end to so many social injustices," he said in an address on a muddy, rain-drenched soccer field.

'Pacification' of poor not enough

The pope praised Brazil’s efforts over the last decade to reduced poverty in Latin America's largest nation, which last month was rocked by massive protests against corruption, the misuse of public money and the high cost of living.

But he said more needed to be done to bridge the gap between rich and poor at the root of social injustice, in a reference to the police occupation of Rio's slums started last year to "pacify" drug-related violence.

"No amount of "pacification" will be able to last, nor will harmony and happiness be attained in a society that ignores, pushes to the margins or excludes a part of itself," he said in Manguinhos, home to about 35,000 poor people. 

Francis, who was known to visit poor neighbourhoods while he was the archbishop of Buenos Aires, is putting into action his belief that the Catholic Church must go to the farthest peripheries to preach and not sit back and wait for the most marginalised to come to Sunday Mass.

Pope will address hundreds of thousands of young Catholics on Copacabana beach as part of the international celebration of World Youth Day.

More than one million young Catholics are expected to descend on Rio de Janeiro on Thursday.

Source: Agencies