A CROWD estimated at a record six million people by officials poured into Manila’s rain-soaked streets and its biggest park yesterday as Pope Francis ended his Asian pilgrimage with an appeal for Filipinos to protect their young from sin and vice so they can instead become missionaries of the faith.
The crowd estimate, which could not be independently verified, included people who attended the Pope’s final Mass in Rizal Park and surrounding areas, and lined his motorcade route, said the chairman of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority, Francis Tolentino.
The Vatican spokesman, the Reverend Federico Lombardi, said they had received the figure officially from local authorities and that it was a record, surpassing the five million who turned out for St John Paul II’s final Mass in the same park in 1995.
Francis dedicated the final homily of his week-long Asia trip to children. His focus was a reflection of the importance that the Vatican places on Asia as the future of the Church, since it is one of the few places where Catholic numbers are growing.
“We need to see each child as a gift to be welcomed, cherished and protected,” Francis said in his homily. “And we need to care for our young people, not allowing them to be robbed of hope and condemned to a life on the streets.”
Francis made a triumphant entry into Rizal Park, riding on a popemobile. He wore the same plastic yellow rain poncho handed out to the masses during his visit to the typhoon-hit eastern city of Tacloban a day earlier.
The crowd, spread out across the 148 acres of parkland and boulevards surrounding it, erupted in shrieks of joy when he drove by.
“It was a blessing that we saw him. Even if we were soaked by the rain, we feel fine,” said Emmie Toreras, 38. She said she had slept in the park since Friday to ensure a good view of the Pope.
Francis dedicated his four-day trip to the Philippines to the poor and marginal. He denounced the corruption that has robbed them of a dignified life, and travelled to Tacloban to offer prayers for survivors of Typhoon Haiyan, the 2013 storm that devastated one of the Philippines’ poorest regions.
Earlier yesterday, Pope Francis drew a huge crowd to Manila’s Catholic university, where he came close to tears himself hearing two rescued street children speak of their lives growing up poor and abandoned.
The Pope spoke off the cuff in his native Spanish to respond to 12-year-old Glyzelle Palomar, who wept as she asked him why children suffer so much.
“Why is God allowing something like this to happen, even to innocent children?” Ms Palomar asked through tears. “And why are there so few who are helping us?”
In his homily, the Pope urged the crowd to protect their children from sin, alcohol and gambling, saying the Devil “distracts us with the promise of ephemeral pleasures”.