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A record six million people turned out to see the Pope today


Philippines Pope Asia AP Photo / Ron Soliman AP Photo / Ron Soliman / Ron Soliman

POPE FRANCIS DREW a record six million people as he celebrated mass in the rain-swept Philippine capital today, a triumphant finale to an Asian tour in which he championed the plight of the poor.

Filipinos are famous for practising a passionate brand of Catholicism and they turned out in a celebratory mood that defied the gloomy skies, determined to see the charismatic 78-year-old pontiff.

Francis made an exhilarating entrance to a Manila bayside park for the mass aboard a “popemobile” that was styled after the nation’s iconic, flamboyant and much-loved “jeepney” minibus.

Dressed in a plastic yellow poncho, he waved and smiled to wildly cheering crowds, stopping repeatedly so he could lean over barriers and kiss babies, before reaching the sea of believers at Rizal Park.

Philippines Pope Asia Pope Francis prays during the Mass at Rizal Park in Manila AP Photo / Alessandra Tarantino AP Photo / Alessandra Tarantino / Alessandra Tarantino

The Philippines is famed as the Catholic Church’s bastion in Asia, with 80 percent of the former Spanish colony following the faith.

But even the pope was stunned at the size of the crowd which he looked out on from the stage.

“I cannot fathom the faith of the simple people,” Francis said, according to the Archbishop of Manila, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, who acted as the pontiff’s chaperone.

Philippines Pope Asia AP Photo / Wally Santana AP Photo / Wally Santana / Wally Santana

Six million turned out to see the pope at the park and along motorcade routes, the head of Manila’s planning agency, Francis Tolentino, told AFP, adding this was based on calculations done with the police.

This surpassed the previous world record for a papal gathering of five million during a mass by John Paul II at the same venue in 1995.

Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said Sunday’s crowd could even reach seven million. However he did not have any firm assessments to base this on.

© – AFP 2015

Read: Papal volunteer dies in storm as Pope Francis visits Philippines >

More: Insult my mother? Expect a punch — Pope Francis >

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