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Mammoth Crowd Gathers for Final Papal Mass

January 15, 1995

MANILA, Philippines (AP) _ Up to 4 million people jammed downtown Manila on Sunday for Pope John Paul II’s final Mass in the Philippines, forcing him to abandon plans to travel to the site by car and go by helicopter instead.

A huge crowd at the residence was blocking the way, and countless thousands of others were gathered along the streets leading to Rizal Park, blocking all access routes.

The crowd broke into thunderous cheers when the pope finally appeared on the podium _ almost an hour behind schedule.

``It’s an excess of success,″ said Vatican spokes Joaquin Navarro. He said the Vatican planned for a crowd of 1 million. But shortly after dawn, officials raised the estimate to 2 million and later said as many as 4 million were trying to reach the site.

Vatican officials said it could be the largest crowd ever gathered for a Mass during John Paul’s 16-year papacy.

They said that 2 1/2 million had turned out in 1979 in the Polish city of Krakow, where the pope had served as bishop.

By sunrise Sunday, the crowds extended all the way to the Pope’s residence, and officials realized that it would be impossible to clear a path for the pontiff’s ``Popemobile.″

Another Vatican official, Archbishop John P. Foley, said authorities were even considering bringing the pope by boat across Manila Bay to seaside Rizal Park, where the Mass was to be held.

``You would need a bulldozer (to make way for the Popemobile),″ Foley said.

President Fidel Ramos, too, had to be brought by helicopter.

Tens of thousands of people camped overnight near the park to stake out a prime spot for the Mass. People were perched in trees and atop vehicles in hopes of catching a glimpse of the pontiff.

Lydia Angeles, 58, walked six miles and got no closer than 500 yards from the Mass site _ arriving five hours ahead of the pope. But she wasn’t disappointed.

``Even though we won’t see him, we can feel his presence,″ she said.

All security and crowd control measures broke down in the pandemonium. Ambulances and buses with bishops were blocked more than an hour before the service was to start.

Dozens of people collapsed from the heat and the crush of humanity. Two men struggled to carry one semi-conscious woman who had fainted.

Tempers flared, and people prayed for rain to cool down the air and discourage others from joining the crowd. Cries of, ``I’m fainting, I’m fainting″ were common.

At one street corner about 500 yards from the altar, reporters counted eight people collapsing over a two-minute period. Police using megaphones begged people to make way, but that was impossible.

The pope has drawn huge crowds in Asia’s only Catholic country throughout his visit, which began Thursday. He leaves Monday for Papua New Guinea and will also visit Australia and Sri Lanka during his 11-day Asian pilgrimage.

The size of the turnouts has been matched by overwhelming enthusiasm.

Late Saturday, an estimated 1 million people gathered for a nighttime rally, in which the pontiff urged young people to take responsibility for giving their lives meaning.

He said they should reject those of the ``intellectual elite″ who promote a cynical view.

The atmosphere around him was carnival-like. The crowd chanted ``John Paul Two, We Love You!″ and broke into song.

John Paul responded, holding hands on stage with beaming young men and women and swaying back and forth to the music. He waved his cane and flashed playful facial expressions to the delight of the crowd.

He showed his uncompromising tone in earlier appearances Saturday, the pontiff’s busiest day so far in the Philippines.

The pope broadcast greetings to China’s 1.2 billion people, but was unbending in his position that only those loyal to the Holy See can consider themselves genuine Catholics. For four decades, China’s Communist government has refused to allow Catholics to acknowledge the supremacy of the pope.

The 74-year-old pontiff reaffirmed church policy against abortion, contraception, sterilization and threats to the ``divine gift of human life″ during a speech earlier in the day to bishops of the Philippines, the Catholic bastion of Asia.

His words to the participants at the church’s 10th World Youth Day centered instead on the choices facing the young. ``False teachers, many belonging to an intellectual elite in the world of science, culture and the media, present an anti-Gospel,″ the pope said.

``They declare that every ideal is dead, contributing in this way to the profound moral crisis affecting society,″ he told the crowd gathered at a park along Manila Bay.

The ceremony began with young people carrying a simple wooden cross that had been brought from the last international World Youth Day celebration in Denver, Colo., in 1993 and that will go on to Paris for the next one in 1997.

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