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Six million brave rain as Pope ends Asian pilgrimage

By Staff Reporter

A record six million people poured into Manila's rain-soaked streets and its biggest park as Pope Francis ended his Asian pilgrimage with an appeal for Filipinos to protect their young from sin and vice so they can instead become missionaries of the faith.

The crowd estimate included people who attended the Pope's final Mass in Rizal Park and surrounding areas, and lined his motorcade route.

Vatican spokesman the Rev Federico Lombardi said the Vatican had received the figure officially from local authorities and that it was a record, surpassing the five million who turned out for St John Paul II's final Mass in the same park in 1995.

It was a reflection of the importance that the Vatican places on Asia as the future of the church since it is one of the few places where Catholic numbers are growing - and on the Philippines as the largest Catholic nation in the region.

Francis made a triumphant entry into Rizal Park in his popemobile, wearing the same cheap, plastic yellow rain poncho handed out to the masses during his visit to the typhoon-hit eastern city of Tacloban a day earlier.

The crowd erupted in shrieks of joy when he drove by.

Francis has dedicated his four-day trip to the Philippines to the poor. He denounced the corruption that has robbed them of a dignified life, visited with street children and travelled to Tacloban to offer prayers for survivors of the deadly 2013 Typhoon Haiyan.

Earlier, Francis drew a huge crowd to Manila's Catholic university, where he came close to tears himself hearing two rescued street children speak. The Pope ditched his prepared remarks and spoke off the cuff in his native Spanish to respond to 12-year-old Glyzelle Palomar, who wept as she asked Francis why children suffer so much.

Palomar, a street child rescued by a church foundation, told him of children who are abandoned or neglected by parents who end up on the streets using drugs or in prostitution.

"Why is God allowing something like this to happen, even to innocent children?" Palomar said through tears. "And why are there so few who are helping us?"

A visibly moved Francis said he had no answer. "Only when we are able to cry are we able to come close to responding to your question," he said.

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