MANILA - Pope Francis said a huge open-air Mass for a rain-drenched crowd of millions in the Philippine capital on Sunday, after appealing to the world to "learn how to cry" over the plight of poor, hungry, homeless and abused children.
The crowd, estimated by city officials to be more than 3 million before the Mass started, filled Manila's Rizal Park and surrounding areas to attend the event that closes Francis's week-long trip to Asia.
The 78-year-old Pope, wearing a transparent yellow poncho over his white cassock, was driven through the ecstatic crowd in a "popemobile" modified from a jeepney, the most popular mode of transport in the Philippines.
He stopped often along the route to kiss children and bless religious statues on the day the Philippines celebrates the feast of the infant Jesus. The faithful held up rosaries in a forest of uplifted arms as he passed by.
Some people in the capital of Asia's only predominantly Catholic country had waited during the night for gates to open at dawn. The gates opened nine hours before the start of the Mass, which was due to last nearly three hours.
Organisers said they had expected as many as 6 million people, more than the 5 million who flocked to a Mass there by Pope John Paul 20 years ago.
The Pope's last full day in the Philippines began with an emotional youth gathering at a Catholic university in Manila, where he was moved by a question posed by a 12-year-old girl who had been abandoned. "Many children are abandoned by their parents. Many of them became victims and bad things have happened to them, like drug addiction and prostitution. Why does God allow this to happen, even if the children are not at fault? Why is it that only a few people help us?" the girl, Glyzelle Iris Palomar, asked him.
The girl, who was rescued and found shelter in a Church-run community, broke down in tears and could not finish her prepared welcome. The Pope hugged her and later put aside most of his own prepared speech to respond. "She is the only one who has put forward a question for which there is no answer and she was not even able to express it in words but rather in tears," he said, visibly moved. "Why do children suffer?" the Argentine Pope said, speaking in his native Spanish.
An aide translated his words into English for the crowd of about 30,000 young people on the grounds of the Church-run university. "I invite each one of you to ask yourselves, 'Have I learned how to weep, how to cry when I see a hungry child, a child on the street who uses drugs, a homeless child, an abandoned child, an abused child, a child that society uses as a slave'?" he said.
Children can be seen living on the streets of the Philippine capital, as they often do in many poor Asian countries, surviving by begging and picking through garbage in vast dumps.
The United Nations says 1.2 million children live on the streets in the Philippines. According to the Child Protection Network Foundation, 35.1 per cent of children were living in poverty in 2009, the last year such data was available. Nearly 33 per cent of Filipinos live in slums.
Francis noted there were more men than women in the crowd and that it was a little girl who was able to move everyone. "Women have much to tell us in today's society. At times we are too 'machista' and don't allow room for women," he said, using the Spanish term for male chauvinist. The crowd laughed. "But women are capable of seeing things with a different angle from us, with a different eye, and pose questions that we men are not able to understand ... so when the next pope comes to Manila, let's please have more women among you," he said.