Pope Francis has called on authorities in the Philippines to "reject corruption" that has plagued the nation for decades, and work to end the "scandalous" poverty it has brought.

The leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics received a rapturous reception in Manila on Friday as he brought his message of social justice to Asia's largest Catholic nation.

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

Pope Francis, Head of the Catholic Church

In a speech to President Benigno Aquino III and senior government officials, Francis urged the country's political leaders to hear the cries of the poor and address the "glaring and indeed scandalous social inequalities" in society.

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

He challenged Filipinos "at all levels of society, 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 in the life of the community."

Receptive message

The 78-year old's message will likely resonate in a country where, according to government statistics, nearly a quarter of the Philippines' 100 million people live on just over $1 a day.

"Corruption is the number one news in the Philippines these days, so it was a good message," Christopher Ladios, a 40-year-old traffic enforcer told the Associated Press news agency.

Corruption has wracked the Philippines since the 20-year rule of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who along with his shoe-loving wife and cronies were suspected of stealing between $5bn and $10bn before being ousted from power in 1986.

Francis also urged priests and bishops to reject materialism and embrace lives of poverty.

"Only by becoming poor ourselves, by stripping away our complacency, will we be able to identify with the least of our brothers and sisters," he said.

Francis later met with dozens of street children after Mass and spent 20 minutes with them listening to them sing for him.

On Saturday, Francis will travel to the central Philippines to comfort survivors of the 2013 Typhoon Haiyan, which left more than 7,300 dead and missing and leveled entire villages.

An estimated six million people will attend a church service on Sunday that Francis will lead [Reuters]

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies