On January 15, 1995, approximately four million Filipinos attended the holy mass celebrated by Saint Pope John Paul II in the Quirino Grandstand and Luneta Park as part of the then-pontiff’s Papal Visit to Manila to celebrate World Youth Day.
Twenty years later, on January 18, 2015, millions of Filipinos once again flocked to the famous landmark to celebrate the Eucharist with Pope Francis in the concluding mass of the Holy Father’s apostolic visit to the Philippines which began last January 15. He is set to leave the Philippines for Vatican City on January 19, concluding a memorable visit that drew countless pilgrims who sacrificed countless hours just to get a glimpse of him.
In preparation for the grand event, several roads were closed off and barricaded days beforehand. However, this did not stop hundreds of people from all over the country from making the journey to Luneta Park and camping out near the monument as early as the night before to ensure a good position for the celebration of the mass.
By early morning of January 18, a vast crowd had already amassed at Luneta Park despite the mass being scheduled in the late afternoon, almost 12 hours later. The crowd would only grow larger and larger as the day pressed on, with the number of people gathered at the Papal Route and concluding mass swelling to more than six million, according to the Metro Manila Development Authority. Once the gates had been opened to the public, volunteers and Philippine National Police Officers struggled to maintain order in the area.
Then, in the late morning, a light drizzle began falling over the millions gathered. As the day pressed on, the rain steadily grew stronger, although the crowds responded by simply persisting through the weather. By the time Pope Francis emerged from the Apostolic Nunciature and began his journey towards the Quirino Grandstand, almost the entire crowd was covered in raincoats and umbrellas. The weather did little to deter the excitement of the crowd, though, who eagerly cheered on the Pope as his motorcade passed by.
During the mass, the Pope addressed the crowd with a prepared speech in English, veering away from his spontaneous Spanish allocutions in the days prior. He discussed the importance and relevance of the Sto. Nino while he also expressed the importance of children. Pope Francis added, “In the gospel, Jesus welcomes children. He raises them and blesses them.”
The leader of the Roman Catholic Church then ended his homily by addressing the people and saying, “Please, don’t forget to pray for me. God bless you.”
The consecration rite of the mass was then done in Latin before hundreds of lay ministers were dispersed to give communion to those in attendance.
Before the final blessing was given, Bishop Socrates Villegas, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, and Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, the Archbishop of Manila, both gave speeches to thank the pontiff.
Bishop Villegas went first and started by saying, “Holy Father, you are our sunshine,” which drew cheers and applause from the crowd.
He then went on and said, “Thank you for being a child of God with us, among us,” then closed his speech by echoing the popular chant, “Pope Francis, we love you!”
Afterwards, Cardinal Tagle took his turn and began by thanking Pope Francis on behalf of all Filipinos.
Cardinal Tagle then referenced one of Pope Francis’ most popular quotes, wherein the pontiff asks the people to pray for him, and said, “We, Filipinos, promise [that] we will pray for you!” He then ended by exclaiming, “Mabuhay Santo Papa! … Mabuhay si Kristo!”
The celebration concluded with the Holy Father making one final round around the Quirino Grandstand as the choir gave a moving rendition of ‘Tell the World of His Love’. The emotional song was used to welcome Saint Pope John Paul II during the World Youth Day in the last Papal Mass held in Manila, back in 1995. Twenty years later, the song is once more used, this time as an anthem for a Pope just as celebrated and loved by Filipinos everywhere.
As Pope Francis circled around Luneta Park for one last time, he bid the faithful farewell, waving and blessing the millions who braved the rain and wind to celebrate the holy mass with him. Those in attendance happily waved back, eager to show their love for the Holy Father, chanting with enthusiasm, “Papa Francisco, mahal ng Filipino!”