COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Pope Francis departed Sri Lanka Thursday for the Philippines, Asia's most populous Catholic nation, where ecstatic crowds await the first papal visit in 20 years.

The government has declared national holidays during the pope's visit, which runs through Monday. He will be in the bustling capital of Manila and eastern Leyte province, where he plans to meet survivors of Typhoon Haiyan that left thousands dead and destroyed entire villages in 2013.

Precy Asistio, 60, joined a growing crowd that waited near the Apostolic Nunciature, where Francis will stay, saying just a wave from the pontiff will make her day.

"We're waiting for Pope Francis so we can be blessed," Asistio said. "Once we see him, we'll go home already, as long as he waves at us."

During his time in Sri Lanka, he traveled to the jungles of the war-torn north for a show of solidarity with the victims of the country's 25-year civil war, urging people to forgive one another "for all the evil which this land has known."

The pope's trip has given Philippine authorities daunting security challenges, including an outdoor Mass in a historic Manila park on Sunday that officials say could draw a record 6 million people.

About 50,000 policemen and troops have been deployed to secure the pope in a country, where past pontiffs have drawn record crowds.