A record-breaking six million people, cosseted in pastel plastics, braved the driving rain in Manila to attend Pope Francis' final Mass and line his motorcade route, officials have confirmed.
The chairman of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority, Francis Tolentino, and Vatican spokesman, the Reverend. Federico Lombardi, said the figure was between 6 million and 7 million. The figure now far surpasses the 5 million who turned out for St. John Paul II's final Mass in Manila's Rizal Park in 1995.
Some had camped outside the park overnight to be the first ones in when the gates opened around 6 am. Many walked a good distance up Roxas Boulevard, a main street along Manila Bay that has been closed. Others took positions behind barricades in hopes of seeing the pope when his motorcade passes later in the day.
Led by an emcee, the rain-drenched crowd greeted the pope's arrival with chants of "Papa Francisco, mahal ng Pilipino" (Pope Francis, loved by Filipinos) to a rhythmic beat. Many who carried images of the Infant Jesus raised them up toward him. The pope waved back, sometimes responding with a double thumbs-up sign.
SUBSCRIBE AND FOLLOW
Get top stories and blog posts emailed to me each day. Newsletters may offer personalized content or advertisements. Learn more
He rode in a popemobile loosely based on the design of a jeepney, a modified US Army World War II jeep with an extended end that is a common means of public transport in the Philippines.
Rommel Monton, 28, a call centre agent with his niece and 4-year-old daughter was impressed. "He doesn't want to be treated as someone special. Look at his vehicles, they are not bullet-proof, he wanted them to be open so that he can feel he is close to the people. How will you be able to protect your followers if you are not with them, if you are afraid to show yourself, to stand behind them or stand before them?"
"I am not satisfied just seeing him on TV. This is a once in a lifetime chance to see him in the flesh, even from afar," Rosalinda Kho, 68, who stood in the rain with her 44-year-old daughter said.
Francis offered his personal condolences to the father of a young Catholic volunteer who was killed Saturday while helping organize his Mass in typhoon-hit Tacloban.
The Vatican said Francis met Sunday for about 20 minutes with the girl's father at the Vatican Embassy in Manila. Spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi described the meeting as moving. The father, Lombardi said, was overwhelmed by the loss but was "consoled thinking that she had helped prepare the meeting of the people with the pope."
Police said Kristel Padasas, a volunteer with Catholic Relief Services, died when scaffolding fell on her. Witnesses said a sudden gust of wind toppled the structure, which served as platform for a large loudspeaker during the Mass.
The Pontiff's final Mass on his visit to the Philippines on the same day devotees celebrate the feast of the Child Jesus, or Santo Nino. Many who had gathered for the Mass carried images of the Santo Nino in colorful garb, hoping they would be blessed by the pope.
Devotees believe the Santo Nino is miraculous and display replicas in various sizes and different garments in homes, cars, public vehicles and offices. Many hospitals and schools around the country are named after it.
The Pope delivered a homily at the Rizal Park against consumerism. "We squander our God-given gifts by tinkering with gadgets. We squander our money on gambling and drink. We turn in on ourselves. We forget to remain focused on the things that really matter," he told the ecstatic crowd.
"I'm really, really happy, never mind that I get wet until the ceremonies finish, as long as I'm here, I'll be present," Genie Mutya, 35, a resident of Valenzuela town told AP.
"I feel very excited. It's very beautiful and meaningful for me. It's the first time for me to come here. And I do believe that all the people here, it's really the work of the Holy Spirit," John Hai, 36, a theologian who had travelled from Myanmar said.