MANILA, Philippines — Pope Francis issued his strongest defense yet of church teaching opposing artificial contraception Friday, using a rally in Asia's largest Catholic nation to urge families to be "sanctuaries of respect for life."
Francis also denounced the corruption that has plagued the Philippines for decades and urged officials to instead work to end its "scandalous" poverty and social inequalities during his first full day in Manila, where he received a rock star's welcome at every turn.
Security was tighter than ever for the pope, who relishes plunging into crowds. Cellphone service around the city was jammed for a second day on orders of the National Telecommunications Commission and roadblocks along Francis' motorcade route snarled traffic for miles.
Police vans followed his motorcade while officers formed human chains in front of barricades to hold back the tens of thousands of wildly cheering Filipinos who packed boulevards for hours just for a glimpse of his four-door Volkswagen passing by.
Police said another 86,000 gathered outside one of Manila's biggest sports arenas, capacity 20,000, where Francis held his first encounter with the Filipino masses: a meeting with families. There, he firmly upheld church teaching opposing artificial contraception and endeared himself to the crowd with off-the-cuff jokes and even a well-intentioned attempt at sign language.
Francis has largely shied away from emphasizing church teaching on hot-button issues, saying the previous two popes made the teaching well-known and that he wants to focus on making the church a place of welcome, not rules. But his comments were clearly a nod to the local church, which recently lost a key fight when President Benigno Aquino III pushed through a reproductive health law that allows the government to provide artificial birth control to the poor.
Today he travels to the central Philippines to comfort survivors of the 2013 Typhoon Haiyan, which left more than 7,300 dead and missing.