Pope Francis has aimed yet another barb at capitalism warning 45,000 South Koreans who gathered at a mass on his first visit to the country to reject "inhuman economic models which create new forms of poverty".

In the first trip of a pontiff to Asia in 15 years, the Argentinian pope chose strong words to address not only an affluent South Korean society, but also other emerging Asian nations facing difficult social challenges.

The crowd at the World Cup stadium in Daejeon, 100 miles south of Seoul, rose when the Pope entered, waved white handkerchiefs and shouted "Viva Papa" and "Mansei" (Long Live) according to AFP.

In his homily, the 77-year-old pontiff urged South Korean Christians to fight "the spirit of unbridled competition which generates selfishness and strife". He also spoke of the "cancer" of despair and a "culture of death" that affects emerging societies which are superficially wealthy but hide at their core sadness and poverty.

Around 30% of South Koreans are Christians, Catholics being the fastest-growing group, with 5.3 million adherents.

The head of the Catholic Church has sent shockwaves to conservative Christians around the world with his uninhibited criticism of capitalism, with some even labelling him a Marxist. In an interview with La Vanguardia, a Spanish newspaper, Francis made an impassioned condemnation of the causes of the global economic crisis.

"We are discarding an entire generation to maintain an economic system that can't hold up any more, a system that to survive, must make war, as all great empires have done. But as a third world war can't be waged, they make regional wars...they produce and sell weapons, and with this, the balance sheets of the idolatrous economies, the great world economies that sacrifice man at the feet of the idol of money, are resolved..."

In its Erasmus column, the Economist magazine argued that the Pope seemed to be taking "an ultra-radical line: one that consciously or unconsciously follows Vladimir Lenin".

In response, the pontiff said that Communists were closet Christians who "have stolen our [Christians] flag". "Poverty is at the centre of the Gospel," he claimed.