A record 6 million people poured into Manila's rain-soaked streets and its biggest park today as Pope Francis ended his Asian pilgrimage with an appeal for Filipinos to protect their young from sin and vice so they can become missionaries of the faith. The Vatican received the figure officially from local authorities and said it was a record, surpassing the 5 million who turned out for St. John Paul II's final Mass in the same park in 1995. Francis dedicated the final homily of his weeklong Asian trip to children. It was a reflection of the importance that the Vatican places on Asia as one of the few places where Catholic numbers are growing—and on the Philippines as the region's largest Catholic nation. "We need to see each child as a gift to be welcomed, cherished and protected," Francis said in his homily. "And we need to care for our young people, not allowing them to be robbed of hope and condemned to a life on the streets."
Francis made a triumphant entry into Rizal Park riding a popemobile, wearing the same cheap, plastic yellow rain poncho handed out to masses during his visit to the typhoon-hit city of Tacloban a day earlier. The crowd—a sea of colorful rain ponchos spread out across 148 acres of parkland—erupted in shrieks of joy when he drove by. Earlier today, Francis drew a huge crowd to Manila's Catholic university, where he 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. "Why is God allowing something like this to happen, even to innocent children?" asked Glyzelle, a child rescued from the street. "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. "Those who are discarded cry. But those who are living a life that is more or less without need, we don't know how to cry."