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Huge Crowd Reinforces Pope’s Message: Church’s Future Lies In Asia

January 16, 1995

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (AP) _ Warriors in feathered headdresses chanted and beat drums Monday as Pope John Paul II arrived in Papua New Guinea on the second leg of a four-nation Asian pilgrimage.

The pope was greeted by a thousands of people, including some who climbed trees to get a better view. But the crowd was considerably more subdued than the throngs that followed the pope everywhere in the Philippines, the only Catholic country in Asia.

On Sunday, John Paul drew the largest crowd of his papacy for a final Mass in Manila. He was joined for the first time in four decades by members of China’s state-sponsored church.

``Christ is working ... for a new springtime of Christianity in this continent,″ he said in his farewell remarks.

Vatican officials estimated the crowd at Sunday’s Mass was between 2 million and 5 million, but its sheer size defied any accurate measure. People filled the huge Rizal Park, where the Mass was held, and spread for miles along wide boulevards.

After the Mass, the pope told Asian bishops that the Roman Catholic Church’s future lies in Asia, home of two-thirds of the world’s people but where only 3 percent are Christian.

``Just as in the first millennium, the cross was planted on the soil of Europe, and in the second, on that of the Americas and Africa, we can pray that in the third Christian millennium, a great harvest of faith will be reaped in this vast and vital continent,″ the pope said.

The Philippines is Asia’s only predominantly Christian country, and about 85 percent of the 66 million Filipinos profess Catholicism.

U.S. airlines operating in the Pacific on alert to a bomb threat from Muslim extremists, who U.S. and Philippine authorities said were planning to attack an American aircraft to protest the pope’s Asian tour.

Sunday’s Mass, which took place on the church’s 10th World Youth Day, was the first time that delegates from China, including the state-sponsored church called the Chinese Patriotic Association, had joined with the pope in prayer. China refuses to allow Catholics to accept papal supremacy.

But Japan’s Kyodo News Service said all but six of the 24 Patriotic Association delegates walked out of the Mass to protest Taiwanese flags in the crowd.

Kyodo quoted delegation co-leader Shi Hong Xi as saying Filipino churchmen had promised to limit national flags to those of the Vatican and the host Philippines.

Filipino church officials, however, insisted there had been no walkout.

``I personally put them (Chinese) back in the bus with the rest of the delegates at the end of the Mass,″ said Angie Bunuan, a Youth Day coordinator. During his homily, the pope told young people not to abuse drugs, alcohol and ``the beautiful gift of sexuality.″ He also warned against following ``the pervasive influence of trends and fashions publicized by the media.″

``Millions of people the world over all are falling into subtle but real forms of moral slavery,″ the pope said.

John Paul seemed visibly moved by the size of the crowd. After mounting the podium, he stared out at the pennant-waving throng. His face seemed almost devoid of expression, his lips quivered as if he were talking to himself.

At the end of the Mass, the pope gave special farewell messages in 13 languages: French, Spanish, Italian, German, English, Serbo-Croatian, Polish, Russian, Korean, Vietnamese, Mandarin, Japanese and Tagalog, the language of the Philippines.

Despite the sternness of the pope’s message, the crowd reacted with the enthusiasm and emotional abandon of an audience at a rock concert.

Lydia Angeles, 58, said she walked six miles to get no closer than 500 yards from the altar. ``Even though we won’t see him, we can feel his presence,″ she said.

Nearly 1,000 people were treated at field clinics for dehydration and heat exhaustion. Many had camped overnight in the streets and park to catch a glimpse of the pontiff.

During his two-day visit beginning Monday, the pope will beatify for the first time a Papua New Guinean: Peter ToRot, the son of a chief and a religious teacher who defied the Japanese during World War II by continuing to hold services after the parish priest was imprisoned. The Japanese executed ToRot. Beatification is the first step toward becoming a saint.

John Paul will also visit Australia and Sri Lanka.

Update hourly