The sheer number of people who attended Pope Francis’ Mass at Luneta (Rizal Park in Manila) on Sunday was a testament to the faith of Filipinos who defied bad weather just to be with the pontiff.
Officials said six million people showed up at the park, a world record crowd for a papal gathering. Most of the faithful who waited for hours wore ponchos to protect themselves from the rain.
The figure surpassed the five million people who celebrated Mass with Pope John Paul II in 1995.
The enormous number of devotees stunned Pope Francis, according to Manila Archbishop Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle.
“I can not fathom the faith of the simple people,” Tagle quoted the Pope as saying after the mass was over.
The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) estimated that 2.4 million people lined the streets from the Apostolic Nunciature on Taft Avenue in Manila to the Rizal Park. At least four million devotees packed Luneta.
“We have it at six million,” MMDA Chairperson Francis Tolentino said when asked for the crowd size.
Many of the faithful who gathered at Quirino Grandstand in the park have been in the area since Saturday. Thousands who came from the provinces stayed in hotels near Luneta, thinking that they would have a better chance of seeing the Pope.
The grandstand was filled to capacity as soon as the gates were opened at 6 a.m., leaving those who came late with no choice but to watch the Mass later on from large TV screens set up around the park.
Francis left the Apostolic Nunciature at past 2:30 p.m.
The pontiff hugged and kissed at least eight children on his way to the stage of Quirino Grandstand.
As early as dawn, huge crowds began to converge around the grandstand for the outdoor Mass scheduled in the afternoon.
As of 12 noon, reports indicated that the number of people who gathered in the sprawling Luneta had reached five million.
Security officials said more than a dozen people were injured when people rushed across concrete barriers and security checkpoints that were earlier set up.
Metal detectors, especially near the Maria Orosa gate, were not used because of the sudden surge of people.
To effectively secure the people and the Pope, the government had placed on standby some 50,000 soldiers and policemen, also the largest security preparation in the country’s history.
The Philippine Red Cross deployed as many as 7,000 personnel in Rizal Park to help those who get injured or fall ill.
The Luneta Mass capped the pontiff’s four-day state and pastoral visit that began on Thursday. He will fly back to the Vatican Monday morning.
The pontiff left Quirino Grandstand area at 5:13 p.m. but not without blessing and waving to the multitude that patiently waited for him.
Before finally leaving, Pope Francis went around the crowd aboard his Popemoble, blessing, shaking hands and kissing a baby.