By Nicole Winfield and Teresa Cerojano
AP Wire Service
MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Hundreds of thousands of Filipinos filled Manila’s main park for Pope Francis’ final Mass on Sunday, braving a steady rain to hear the pontiff’s message of hope for the Southeast Asian country’s most downtrodden and destitute.
Organizers expect as many as 6 million people at the Mass, surpassing the 5 million record set by St. John Paul II at the same Rizal Park in 1995.
Francis drew a huge crowd earlier in the day Sunday when he addressed young people at Manila’s Catholic university, coming close to tears himself when he heard two young children speak of their lives growing up poor and on the streets.
Francis has dedicated his four-day trip to the Philippines to the poor, denouncing the corruption that has robbed them of a dignified life, visiting with street children and travelling to typhoon-hit Tacloban to offer prayers for the survivors of the deadly 2013 Typhoon Haiyan that devastated one of the Philippines’ poorest regions.
Francis ditched his prepared remarks again, speaking off the cuff to respond to four young people who spoke of their lives, including little Glyzelle Palomar, age 12, who wept as she recounted her life story and asked why children, in particular, suffer so much. She spoke of children who are abandoned by their parents and end up in prostitution, but couldn’t finish her remarks because she broke down in tears.
“Only when we are able to cry are we able to come close to responding to your question,” Francis said.
“Those on the margins cry. Those who have fallen by the wayside cry. Those who are discarded cry,” he said. “But those who are living a life that is more or less without need, we don’t know how to cry.”
A steady rain from the same tropical storm that forced Francis to cut short his visit to the typhoon zone in Tacloban on Saturday fell on the crowd, but it didn’t seem to dampen spirits of Filipinos who streamed into the capital for Francis’ final day.
“I am not satisfied just seeing him on TV,” said Rosalinda Kho, a devout Catholic who arrived before dawn outside Rizal Park. By the time the gates opened, the roads leading to the park were mostly closed. Many people camped out on tarpaulins on the ground where they had spent the night, surrounded by bags of food. Some pilgrims carried images of the infant Jesus: Francis’ Mass falls on a major Catholic feast day here, the Santo Nino.
Kho said she agreed with Francis’ condemnation of corruption that has deprived the poor. “Our country is rich yet so many are poor,” she said. (end)