By: Jonathan Andal, Green FM News Director and Chief Announcer
Another first for Pope Francis, who is considered the Pope of many firsts, was recorded on January 18 at the Quirino Grandstand in Rizal Park.
On his last full day in the Philippines, over 6 million Filipinos gathered at the Rizal Park in Manila to participate in a mass with the Holy Father, breaking the record of Pope John Paul II’s mass in 1995, also in the Philippines, which had 5 million attendees. Vatican considered the event as the largest assembly of people that a Pope has gathered in the history of the world.
Under the pouring rain, the Filipino people have manifested their unconditional devotion and power of faith during the “largest Sunday Mass” in history.
The Papal concluding mass at the Luneta was also the pope’s last official public activity for his six-day Asia trip, which started on January 12, 2015.
Prior to the “Largest Sunday Mass” event
A day before the concluding mass in Manila, many Filipinos kept vigil on the corners of Luneta and Quirino Grandstand so they can have a good vantage point when the Pope Francis motorcade passes on their side the following day. Even authorities completed all security measures a night before the event: walk-through metal scanners were installed, metal barricades which divided the grounds into multiple quadrants were fenced and policemen were deployed to their designated posts.
But when the gates opened at 6am, the crowd could not be controlled any longer and walk- through metal scanners became inutile. People jumped over the fences and the number of policemen was not enough to control the crowd. Another police contingent was called to augment the security force in Luneta.
Supposedly, roads going to Luneta would be closed at 10am but with the volume of people converging towards Quirino Grandstand, some roads became impassable as early as 4am.
At 9 am, rain started to fall. People brought out their raincoats, since umbrellas were not allowed, while some enjoyed the rain like it was a blessing from above without any protection from it. The elderly, children, PWDs, women and men braved the heavy rains and cool breeze to squeeze into crowds of thousands of people so they can move forward as close as they could to have a good glimpse of the Pope.
Carmelita Villanueva, 76 years old, has a reserved seat in front of the stage but wasn’t allowed to enter the section where she has reservation because she came in late. Instead she entered Quadrant A, the quadrant just right behind her supposed seat. “Okay lang na di ako nakapasok, ang mahalaga ay makita ko si Pope at marinig yung misa niya.”
Most devotees brought statuettes and images of Sto. Nino to be blessed by the Holy Father as per the advice of the Papal Committee authorities because it was also the Feast day of the child Jesus.
Shivering under the cold rain, people participated in rehearsals of the Sinulog dance with the Cebuano dancers in the lead, in cheering “Papa Francisco, Mahal ng Pilipino,” in the Pope Francis Wave and the singing of Papal visit songs “Tell the world of His Love” and “We are all God’s children.”
But before the Pope arrived, many complained about the lack of portalets (portable toilets) per quadrant. Each quadrant had 6 portalets, but the number appeared insufficient to accommodate thousands of people per division.
In quadrant A, 4 portalets were allotted for women while the 2 were for men. On the men’s lane, it would take you 45 minutes before you can enter the portalet while on women’s, on the average, it would take you almost 3 hours.
“Hindi na nga ako masyadong nag-i-i-inom ng tubig para hindi maihi eh, ang haba kasi ng pila (Because of the long queue to the portalet, I didn’t drink much water so I wouldn’t have to urinate),” Joy Baesa said.
Pope on the Venue
Pope Francis was expected to arrive at the grandstand at 3:15 pm, but he was there as early as 2:45 pm. When his motorcade arrived, the rain became stronger. But devotees seemed to ignore the rains and cheered as loud as they could to give Pope Francis a warm welcome.
The Pope toured the half side (Kalaw St. bound) on his way to the grandstand. He was welcomed by the Sinulog dance, the Pope Francis wave and the cheer “Papa Francisco, Mahal ng Pilipino” directed by the host on stage who was referred to by netizens as a cheerleader. The pope did not disappoint the crowd on his way to the grandstand when he stopped by some of the quadrants to kiss and hug children.
As a sign of respect to the Holy Eucharist service, the public was advised not to take pictures when the mass started.
Strong cold winds blew and heavy rains fell during some portions of the mass but the people seemed unfazed showing devotion that could not be diverted by any weather disturbance. Shivering in the rain, people remained steadfast and solemnly prayed and listened to the Holy Father celebrate the mass.
Unlike the mass in Tacloban Airport Pope Francis read the prepared speech for his homily. People though were expecting him to speak in Spanish. He gave a meaningful and inspirational sermon. He emphasized the importance of the Sto. Nino as a reminder that all of us are children of God.
Pope Francis also received words of gratitude from CBCP President and Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villages and Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle towards the end of the mass.
“You often end your meetings and encounters by saying, ‘I ask you to pray for me.’ We, Filipinos, promise we will pray for you,” Tagle promised to the Pope.
“Holy Father, you are our sunshine. For many days since you came, it has always been a sunrise of smiles for us Filipinos. We are not feeling the rain. You have brought us joy, you have brought us hope, you have brought us warmth. You have brought us Jesus…Holy Father, when you give us the blessing tonight, we will be your lights. We will light Asia and the world with mercy and compassion of Jesus. We will light the world with the joy of the gospel,” Villegas said.
As a form of Pope Francis’s final blessing in his concluding mass, candles were lightened with the singing of the 1995 World Youth Day theme song “Tell the World of His Love.”
Quirino Grandstand and Rizal Park, for a moment, became a ground of flaming gentle stars, slowly moving from left to right. Some were crying, even members of the press were not able to contain their emotions. The electrifying ambience during this moment manifested to the world the enthusiasm of the Filipino people to have Pope Francis in the Philippines and their faith in Jesus Christ, the savior.
The Pope left the Grandstand on a motorcade which took the route of the other half of Luneta and Quirino Grandstand, wearing a yellow poncho and with the people cheering and singing the official Papal Visit song, “We are all God’s Children.”