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Millions brave storm to hear Pope Francis’ Mass in Luneta

Pope Francis kisses a child as he arrives at the Quirino Grandstand on Sunday, January 18. AFP/Ted Aljibe

(UPDATED 5:59 p.m.) Just hours after delivering yet another message for people to care for the less fortunate, Pope Francis on Sunday afternoon motored to the Quirino Grandstand in Luneta amid cheers of millions of rain-drenched Filipinos that gathered for what could be the biggest Holy Mass in the country in decades.

The Pope left the Apostolic Nunciature around 2:25 p.m. on board a white jeep fashioned to be the Filipino version of a pope mobile, open on all sides despite the rain brought by Tropical Storm Amang on Metro Manila and nearby areas.

As of 5:30 p.m., the Metro Manila Development Authority estimated the crowd at six million people for Luneta and the papal route.
That number surpasses the previous record for a papal gathering of five million during a mass by John Paul II at the same venue in 1995.

Feast of the Sto. Niño

Chants of "Papa Francesco," a Sinulog dance, and the ringing of church bells highlighted a fiesta welcome for Pope Francis as he arrived at Luneta.
The Pope arrived to boisterous cheers from Filipinos, many of whom had been waiting in the area since Saturday.
Many in the crowd raised images of the Sto. Niño (Child Jesus) as the papal convoy passed by them.
For his part, the Pope blessed children and babies in the crowd as his Popemobile passed them.

Sunday's fiesta welcome was in response to the call of Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines president and Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas for a fiesta welcome for the Pope at the concluding Mass.
Villegas had also encouraged the faithful to bring their Sto. Niño images to welcome the Pope. The day of the concluding mass falls on the Feast of Sto. Niño – the third Sunday of January.
The Argentine Pope is concelebrating the Eucharistic celebration with more than 2,000 priests and bishops, while a 1,000-member choir will sing at the Mass accompanied by a 200-member orchestra. 
The Holy Mass will be celebrated in multiple languages.

Rain-soaked devotees

Delma Labrador and her family wait for the arrival of Pope Francis at Luneta Park on Sunday morning, January 18. Amita Legaspi

The rains did not stop devotees — many from other parts of the country — from trooping to Rizal Park to hear the mass.
"I will go whether there's a storm or not. I am not afraid of the rain," Nona Andaya Castillo, 52, a natural family planning and breastfeeding consultant from Manila, told AFP.
"This is history, and this will probably be my last chance to see a pope in person."
Some came prepared with their food and rain gear while others took shelter in makeshift kubols and trees.

Others, however, were unable to enter the barricaded area.
Delma Labrador, 66, left her Taytay, Rizal home at around 4 a.m. with her husband, daughter, son-in-law, and two grandchildren. They arrived in Luneta past 6.
They immediately lined up at the Ma. Orosa entrance to enter the barricaded area of Luneta but eventually gave up.
"Nasa Orosa na kami kaninang 8 a.m. pero umalis kami, nagtutulakan na papasok pa lang," Labrador told GMA News Online, adding her frail body could no longer take the pushing.
They instead decided to stay on the center island near National Museum with only transparent plastic protecting them from rain hoping for a glimpse of the pope on his arrival.
"May pagkain naman kami, ulam, tubig, biskwit. Dito lang kami. Minsan lang sa buhay na dumating dito si Santo Papa, wala naman tayong pera papuntang Roma," she said.

Safety concerns

Thousands of Catholic devotees walk along Taft Avenue on their way to Quirino Grandstand in Manila on Sunday, January 18, to see and hear Pope Francis during his Mass in the afternoon. Roy Lozano

Authorities already adjusted their preparations for the mass, opening more entrances to the area after pilgrims waiting for Pope Francis got hurt because of the shoving and jostling in the crowd earlier in the day.
Earlier reports said among those hurt in the incident that happened at the Maria Orosa Gate was a 13-year-old boy. Manila City Disaster Officer Johnny Yu said that barricades at the Maria Orosa entrance were toppled by the crowd.
Philippine National Police officer-in-charge Deputy Director Leonardo Espina said they opened more than 40 additional entrances to the Quirino Grandstand, from 30 to 72 entrances.
"By the sheer volume of people who wanted to occupy the quadrants dinagdanahan namin ang open na entrances," said Espina at a briefing in Manila.
The gates were opened two hours earlier than scheduled to prevent further untoward incidents.
"We are concerned for the security of the people so we're doing this," he added, adding that some 27,000 policemen have been deployed at Luneta and surrounding area to ensure peace and order, and prevent any stampede.

Asia's role model

The Pope's five-day visit to the Philippines, which began on Thursday, followed two days in Sri Lanka.
It is his second trip to Asia in five months, in a nod to the growing importance of the region to the Catholic Church as it faces declining support in Europe and the United States.
It is also the fourth papal visit to the Philippines.
The Philippines is the Catholic Church's benchmark in Asia, with 80 percent of the former Spanish colony followers of the faith.
Rapturous receptions for the pope throughout his Philippine journey, including millions crowding his motorcade routes in Manila, have cemented the nation's status as the Church's Asian role model.—with reports from Amita Legaspi, Joel Locsin, Mark Merueñas and Agence France-Presse/NB/JST, GMA News