An estimated six million people flocked to Manila’s Rizal park on Sunday to attend the final mass of Pope Francis’ five-day visit to the Philippines.
The turnout breaks the record set by the last pope to say mass in the same park – John Paul II in 1995, when five people million attended.
The pope is a revered figure in the Philippines, where 80% of the population is devoutly Catholic. Many at the mass considered his visit as a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Chiqui Tulaio had arrived at the venue hours before the mass began, to try to find a good place to stand along the motorcade route. “He is a second Jesus for us, a second father for Filipinos,” she said.
Though it rained all day on Sunday, the weather did not dampen the spirits of the faithful who had come from all over the country, motivated by the chance to see a man whom they believe is an answer to their prayers.
Crowds lined the streets patiently and calmly, standing on the closed-off pavements near the venue or behind policed barricades waiting for a sight of their hero. To protect themselves from the rain they wore everything from rubbish bags turned into raincoats to shawls made of bubble wrap.
One observer, Joey Stefona, was so excited about the prospect of seeing Pope Francis in person he said: “If he passed by I would be so elated, no words can explain. I really love the pope. I can see all the people smiling – all smiling despite the rain because they are all hoping to see the pope and pray for everyone’s dream.”
As Francis rode into the park on a popemobile based on a Filipino “jeepney” vehicle, he wore a simple plastic yellow rain poncho of the type that had been handed out to thousands who attended his visit to typhoon-ravaged Tacloban on Saturday.
Upon seeing the modified US army second world war jeep that so many use for public transportation, cheers of joy and excitement rang out in the crowd.
On seeing the pope for the first time, another member of the public, Fely Saldua, said: “It’s a happiness that you can’t describe, an inner happiness.”
A cancer patient who hoped seeing the pope would help her recovery said she wished him to hear “the voices of the Filipinos, not only the politicians or powerful people”.
Pope Francis also had a message for the Filipinos. During his homily he said that, given theirs was the foremost Catholic country in Asia, Filipinos were called to be missionaries of faith.
He also noted that it was sometimes tempting to “give up” amid the wrongs, but it was a time to remain strong.
A 16-year-old, named Brenda, said she wanted to tell the pope: “I want him to learn that even with all the crime going on there was hope, no matter how infinitesimal.”
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