January 17, 2015 / 9:43 PM / in 3 years

Pope to conclude Asian trip with huge outdoor Mass in Manila

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.

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

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.

At the Mass in Tacloban, Francis put aside his prepared homily and delivered a very personal, emotional message of comfort to survivors, who stood amid puddles in mud-soaked fields and along roadsides.

He told them that he had vowed to make the trip in November 2013 when he saw reports of the devastation Haiyan had caused.

“I felt that I had to be here ... I am here to be with you, perhaps a little late, I have to say, but I am here,” he said.

He said he “respected the feelings” of those who felt they had been let down by God because of the disaster but implored them to move forward in their faith.

Francis leaves for Rome on Monday morning.

Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Rosalind Russell

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