The sheer number of people who attended Pope Francis’ Mass at the Rizal Park was a testament of the faith of Filipinos who defied inclement 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 Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) estimated that 2.4 million people lined the streets from the Apostolic Nunciature in Quirino Avenue to the Rizal Park. At least four million devotees packed Rizal Park.
“We have it at six million,” MMDA chairman Francis Tolentino said when asked for the crowd size.
Many of the faithful who gathered at the Quirino Grandstand had been in the area since Saturday. Thousands who came from the provinces stayed in hotels near park, thinking 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 to watch from large TV screens set up around the park.
The pope 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 the Quirino Grandstand.
As early as dawn, huge crowds began to converge around the Quirino 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 park already reached five million.
Security officials said more than a dozen people were wounded during a small stampede when people rushed across concrete barriers and security checks that were earlier set up. The metal detectors, especially near the Ma. Orosa gate, were not used because of the sudden surge of people.
To effectively secure the pilgrims and the Pope, the government placed on standby some 50,000 soldiers and policemen, also the largest security preparation in history.
The Philippine Red Cross deployed as many as 7,000 personnel in the park to assist 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 the Quirino Grandstand area at 5:13 p.m. but not without blessing and waving to the crowds who patiently waited for him.
Before finally leaving, Pope Francis went around the crowd, blessing, shaking hands and kissing a baby.