Pope ends record-setting Asia tour

Pope ends record-setting Asia tour

MANILA - Pope Francis flew back to Rome on Monday after a dramatic week in Asia that saw him draw record crowds and hammer home his pro-poor message to millions.

The pontiff visited Sri Lanka and the Philippines on his second trip to Asia in five months, seeking to promote the Catholic Church in one of its most important growth regions.

Tens of thousands of people in the Philippine capital of Manila crowded his motorcade route on Monday morning for a final glimpse of Francis, and he smiled and waved to them from an open-air "popemobile".

President Benigno Aquino then led a red-carpet farewell on the tarmac at the airport, as children sang and danced, before the pope gave a final wave to the Philippines and boarded his plane to return home.

Sunday saw one of the highlights of his Asian journey, with six million people turning out in Manila as he celebrated mass -- a world record for a papal gathering.

The Philippines is famed as the Catholic Church's bastion in Asia, with 80 per cent of the former Spanish colony's 100 million people following the faith.

But even the pope was stunned at the size of the crowd, which surpassed the previous world record of five million during a mass by John Paul II at the same venue in 1995.

"I cannot fathom the faith of the simple people," Francis said, according to the archbishop of Manila, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, who acted as the pontiff's chaperone during his five days in the Philippines.

Throughout his time in the Philippines -- where a quarter of the population lives on 60 cents a day or less -- the pope spoke out against the forces that entrench poverty.

In a speech at the presidential palace, the pope lectured the nation's elite, calling on political leaders to show integrity and do something to end the nation's "scandalous social inequalities".

Compassion

He again implored people to do more to eradicate poverty, after an emotional encounter in Manila with a 12-year-old girl who asked why God would allow children to become prostitutes.

He said superficial compassion for the poor shown by many in the world, which resulted in just giving alms, was not enough.

"If Christ had that kind of compassion, he would have just walked by, greeted three people, given them something and moved on," he said.

The pope said the main reason for visiting the Philippines was to meet survivors of Super Typhoon Haiyan, the strongest storm ever recorded on land which claimed more than 7,350 lives in November 2013.

He flew on Saturday morning from Manila to Leyte island, ground zero for the typhoon, and celebrated a deeply emotional mass with 200,000 survivors.

"Some of you have lost part of your families. All I can do is keep silent. And I walk with you all with my silent heart," he said.

Francis had planned to spend a full day in communities where homes were flattened by monster winds and tsunami-like ocean surges, but was forced to return to Manila to avoid another tropical storm.

Still, he was deeply moved by his shortened visit to the typhoon areas and felt privileged to have made the trip, Cardinal Tagle told reporters.

The pope began this Asian tour with two days in Sri Lanka, where he canonised the country's first saint in front of another record crowd.

Police said a million people in the majority Buddhist nation turned out for the event, making it the biggest public celebration ever for the capital of Colombo.

More about

Pope Francis
Purchase this article for republication.

BRANDINSIDER

SPONSORED

Most Read

Your daily good stuff - AsiaOne stories delivered straight to your inbox
By signing up, you agree to our Privacy policy and Terms and Conditions.