Pope to conclude Asian trip with huge outdoor Mass in Manila

Sat Jan 17, 2015 4:39pm EST
 
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By Philip Pullella and Rosemarie Francisco

MANILA (Reuters) - Pope Francis wraps up his Asian trip on Sunday with an outdoor Mass expected to draw one of the largest crowds in Philippine history.

Organizers say as many as six million people may attend the afternoon service at Manila's Rizal Park, more than the some five million who flocked to a Mass by Pope John Paul 20 years ago in Asia's largest Catholic country.

Faithful began arriving at the sprawling park on Saturday night to get good places and police expect the crowd to flow over into surrounding areas.

The pope will hold morning meetings with religious leaders and young people at a Manila university before the Mass, the last event of a trip that began last Tuesday in Sri Lanka.

The Philippines has laid on the largest security operation in its history, with about 50,000 police and soldiers on hand.

The Vatican said Francis will dedicate the Mass in part to the victims of Typhoon Haiyan, which killed at least 6,300 people, left a million others homeless and displaced four million when it ravaged parts of the country in 2013.

On Saturday, Francis donned a plastic poncho against gusting winds and driving rain in order to keep a promise to comfort survivors in Tacloban, ground zero of Haiyan, but a new storm forced him to leave four hours earlier than planned.

The effects of tropical storm Mekkhala, which hit the Tacloban area with gusts of up to 130 km/h (80 mph) while the pope was there, may be felt in the capital during the Mass.   Continued...

 
Pope Francis, in a rain poncho, attends during a Mass near Tacloban airport January 17, 2015. REUTERS/ Stefano Rellandini