More than 6m attend Pope Francis’ Manila service

MANILA. – Pope Francis concluded his trip to Asia yesterday with an open-air Mass for a rain-drenched crowd in Manila that the Vatican and the government said drew up to seven million people, the largest ever for a papal event.

Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said the office of the president told the Vatican that between six and seven million attended the Mass in Manila’s Rizal Park and surrounding areas.

“We are not able to count all these people, obviously, or to verify this, but in any case, we have seen so many people that we believe that it is possible,” Lombardi told a briefing.

“If this is true, and we think it is, this is the largest event in the history of the popes,” he said, noting that Pope John Paul drew some five million to the same area in 1995.

The 78-year-old Pope, wearing a transparent yellow poncho over his white cassock, was driven through the ecstatic crowd in a “Popemobile” modified from a jeepney, the most popular mode of transport in the Philippines which is based on a US military vehicle used in World War II.

He stopped often along the route to kiss children and bless religious statues on the day the Philippines celebrates the feast of the infant Jesus. The faithful, also wearing ponchos, held up rosaries in a forest of uplifted arms as he passed by.

Some people in the capital of Asia’s only predominantly Catholic country had waited all night for gates to open at dawn. The gates opened nine hours before the start of the Mass, which was due to last nearly three hours.

In his homily, the pope urged Filipinos to shun “social structures which perpetuate poverty, ignorance and corruption,” a theme he stressed when he held talks with President Benigno Aquino on Friday. Aquino attended the Mass.

Francis also took another swipe at the government’s population control efforts, saying the family was under threat from “insidious attacks and programmes contrary to all that we hold true and sacred.”

The pope’s last full day in the Philippines began with an emotional youth gathering at a Catholic university in Manila, where he was moved by a question posed by a 12-year-old girl who had been abandoned.

Meanwhile Pope Francis yesterday said men should listen to women’s ideas more and not be male chauvinists.

The Argentine pope made impromptu remarks during a youth rally at a co-ed Catholic university in the Philippine capital, Manila, after he noted that four of the five people who addressed him on stage were male.

“There is only a small representation of females here, too little,” he said, bringing laughter from the crowd.

“Women have much to tell us in today’s society. At times we men are too ‘machista’,” he said, using the Spanish term for male chauvinists. -Reuters.