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Pope says Mass for huge Manila crowd

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An aerial view shows pilgrims gathering to hear a Mass conducted by Pope Francis at Luneta Park in Manila January 18, 2015. Pope Francis concluded his trip to Asia on Sunday with an open-air Mass for a rain-drenched crowd in Manila that the Vatican and the government said drew up to seven million people, the largest ever for a papal event.

[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.

City officials said some 4 million people were in Manila's Rizal Park and more in surrounding areas to witness the event that caps Pope 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, also wearing ponchos, held up rosaries in a forest of uplifted arms as he passed by.

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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.

In his homily, the Pope urged Filipinos to shun "social structures which perpetuate poverty, ignorance and corruption", a theme he stressed when he held talks with President Benigno Aquino on Friday. Mr Aquino attended the Mass.

Pope Francis also took another swipe at the government's population control efforts, saying the family was under threat from "insidious attacks and programmes contrary to all that we hold true and sacred".

Organisers had 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 ... 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.

In his homily later at the Mass, the Pope again spoke of the need to defend children, saying: "We need to see each child as a gift to be welcomed, cherished and protected. And we need to care for our young people, not allowing them to be robbed of hope and condemned to life on the streets."