MANILA, Philippines – Pope Francis celebrated mass with millions of singing and cheering Catholics in the Philippine capital on Sunday, in one of the world's biggest outpourings of papal devotion.
Rain fell steadily in Manila in the hours before the mass but Filipinos are famous for practising a passionate brand of Catholicism and they turned out in a joyous mood that defied the gloomy skies.
The 78-year-old pontiff thrilled crowds on his way to the bayside park venue for mass. He travelled along a motorcade route in a "popemobile" styled after the Philippines' iconic minibuses known as jeepneys.
A record 6 million people poured into Manila's rain-soaked streets and its biggest park Sunday as Pope Francis ended his Asian pilgrimage with an appeal for Filipinos to protect their young from sin and vice so they can instead become missionaries of the faith.
The crowd estimate included people who attended the pope's final Mass in Rizal Park and surrounding areas, and lined his motorcade route, said the chairman of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority, Francis Tolentino.
The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the Vatican had received the figure officially from local authorities and that it was a record, surpassing the 5 million who turned out for St. John Paul II's final Mass in the same park in 1995.
Francis dedicated the final homily of his weeklong Asia trip, which began in Sri Lanka, to children, given that the Mass fell on an important feast day honoring the infant Jesus. His focus was a reflection of the importance that the Vatican places on Asia as the future of the church since it's one of the few places where Catholic numbers are growing -- and on the Philippines as the largest Catholic nation in the region.
"We need to see each child as a gift to be welcomed, cherished and protected," Francis said in his homily. "And we need to care for our young people, not allowing them to be robbed of hope and condemned to a life on the streets.