Manila – Filipinos estimated in the millions have gathered to join Pope Francis in a religious service in Manila, as the leader of Catholic Church winds down his five-day Philippine visit.
Francis met with tens of thousands of youth in the Philippine capital, amid heavy rain early on Sunday, before he headed to the largest park in Manila for the afternoon Mass.
Church leaders were predicting that as many as six million people would attend the event; city officials, however, estimated about three million people were at the scene, as heavy rains brought by storm, Mekkhala, dampened the estimates.
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Still, thousands of faithful clad in plastic raincoats, or carrying umbrellas, continued to stream to Luneta, the same park where Pope John Paul II held a Mass in 1995.
That event 20 years ago attracted five million worshippers, and remains in the record books as the largest Catholic gathering in the modern times.
As early as Saturday evening, worshippers hoping to get spots nearest to the pope were already camped out at the park.
Despite government advisory not to bring the elderly and children, many disregarded it.
Security have been placed on heightened alert on the duration of the pope’s visit.
‘Preserving traditional family’
During his speech to the crowd in Manila, Francis again addressed the issue of preserving traditional family.
“Sadly, in our day, the family all too often needs to be protected against insidious attacks and programmes contrary to all that we hold true and sacred, all that is most beautiful and noble in our culture.”
Last year, the Philippine government passed a law on artificial birth control. There are also proposals to pass a divorce law. Both issues are strongly opposed by the Catholic Church.
The Philippines and the Vatican are the only two countries that prohibit divorce.
|The pope’s visit to the the Philippines|
During an earlier meeting at a Catholic university, the pope said the church needs to give more “room for women” to lead.
“Women are able to see things with different eyes than us [applause]. Women are able to ask questions that men can’t understand”.
He also paid tribute to a female church volunteer, who was killed in Tacloban just hours after he visited the typhoon-hit city on Saturday.
The pope was forced to cut short that trip due to the the storm, which already killed at least ten people following a landslide in central province of Albay.
Francis’ Mass in Manila also coincides with the celebration of 494 years anniversary of Christianisation in the Philippines.
In the island of Cebu, where Spanish missionaries arrived in 1521, at least 3.5 million more Filipinos gathered on Sunday to celebrate the Sinulog festival, and to welcome the pope.
Of the 100 million Filipinos, an estimated 80 million are Catholics.