MILLIONS of Filipinos on Sunday braved the pouring rain and broke strict security protocols to gather in what could be the largest congregation of Catholic faithful in history.
As early as dawn, huge crowds began to converge around the Quirino Grandstand in Manila for the outdoor Mass scheduled in the afternoon. Officials said the crowd could reach six million, surpassing the number of people who turned out for the Mass celebrated in the same venue by the late Pope and now Saint John Paul in 1995.
As of 12 noon, reports indicated that the number of people who gathered in the sprawling park already reached five million.
Security officials reported that 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 has 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 will cap the pontiff’s four-day State and Pastoral visit that began on Thursday. He will fly back to the Vatican Monday morning.
Also on Sunday, telecommunications companies, upon government orders, temporarily suspended mobile phone services at the venues of Pope Francis’ events.
“In compliance with government orders, Smart and Sun Cellular have temporarily suspended mobile phone services in parts of Metro Manila that His Holiness Pope Francis will hold his activities today. This includes the University of Santo Tomas (UST), the Quirino Grandstand in Luneta Park and other areas of Metro Manila. This is part of comprehensive efforts to ensure the safety of the Pope and the public,” the company said in a statement.
The papal visit is the fourth to the Philippines, the most predominantly Catholic nation in Asia.