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ANALYSIS: How many people really turned up for Pope Francis' Luneta mass?


Immediately following Pope Francis' historic mass at the Quirino Grandstand on Sunday, January 18, the MMDA claimed that the gathered crowd peaked at 6 million people—a record that surpasses the 4-million-strong throng that reportedly attended Pope John Paul II at the same place during World Youth Day in 1995.
 
 
Meanwhile, Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi told the Catholic News Agency (CNA) that the total may be even higher: 

"The official number that has been given to us is between six and seven million," he said.

But as of posting time, no other independent estimates have been made and the MMDA itself has yet to disclose how it came up with its official estimate.
 
Short of actually counting every single person within the area, the next best thing is to "guesstimate" the size of the crowd based on available photographs.
 
The following picture, taken by Agence France-Presse's Giuseppe Cacace, is particularly valuable because we can make out individuals in the crowd, thanks to their bright and colorful raincoats:
 
 
The photo also shows key terrain features—in this case, the clearly-defined road markings and their relative distance to the main stage—that enable us to relate the number of people to the size of the area they're standing on.
 
Blocking off a portion of the crowd within the area of the markings and counting the number of heads—give or take a few, given the graininess of the photo—gives us a headcount of 230 people within the given space:

 
Now, according to Google Maps, the area is roughly 44 square meters in size:
 
 
And, given the official size of Luneta Park—just under 60 hectares or some 600,000 square meters—we can then estimate the size of the crowd presuming an even distribution.
 
Doing the math gives us a figure of roughly 3 million people—the same number that the MMDA originally came up with early Sunday afternoon, before the pope's mass. 
 
That's a very far cry from the claimed 6 million people.
 
But this gross estimation doesn't take into account the streets surrounding the Luneta, nor the area of the papal route mentioned in the MMDA's tweet.
 
Once again using Google Maps, tracing the route from Luneta to the Papal Nunciature gives a distance of approximately 3 kilometers:
 
 
Presuming that each side of the road has a full crowd 20 meters deep and fully packed at five people to a square meter, that means over half a million people could've fit along the papal route alone.
 
Which leaves some 2.4 million people unaccounted for, but these may have been taken up by the streets surrounding the Luneta. Certainly, numerous aerial photos show the crowd spilling over into those areas:
 
 
One thing is certain, though: six million people could not have directly viewed the pope as he celebrated Mass within the tight confines of the Quirino Grandstand and the Luneta Park.
 
At a density of 10 people per square meter—like packing an entire basketball team into a space the size of an office desk—it would've been a very tight squeeze indeed. — With Irene Crisologo/GMA News
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