An aging Pope shared his dreams for the future with a gigantic outpouring of young people here today who flocked to a bay-side Mass in what Vatican officials called the largest crowd ever to attend a papal event.
“The organizers were expecting 1 million. By dawn there were 2 million, and by now there are 4 million people in the area,” said papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro as the Mass began far behind schedule.
“There is no security problem. This is an excess of success, that is the problem,” Navarro said.
Saturday night, young people from around the world jammed Rizal Park in downtown Manila in a prayer vigil with the 74-year-old Pope.
Swinging his cane rhythmically to their songs, John Paul II urged the young people to chart their own moral course, rejecting cynical counsel from false prophets in the worlds of science, culture and the media.
“I love you,” the Pope told the crowd, reflecting the tenor of his church’s World Youth Day ceremonies in Asia’s only predominantly Catholic capital.
Manila TV commentators estimated 1 million people attended the Saturday vigil, but today’s turnout exceeded all expectations and knotted Manila solid.
Even the Pope was late for Sunday Mass: a fretful 1 hour and 41 minutes.
His schedule called for a 15-minute, two-mile drive from the Apostolic Nunciature to the altar, but he was trapped for more than an hour in the nunciature, where he spent the night Saturday. Police finally decided to fly him in a helicopter over the vast crowd.
“This is the biggest crowd I have ever seen in my life; bigger than the ones in Poland when the Pope went back for the first time,” said Vatican TV commentator Archbishop John P. Foley.
Festive Filipinos so far from the Mass site that they would have no chance of seeing the Pope lined the street 50 deep.
Flags of dozens of nations, including the Stars and Stripes, waved under gray skies in the humid air to salute the pontiff, who sat on a red velvet throne in the same park Saturday night to hear the ideas and concerns of young pilgrims.
About 400 youths from Southern California, many from the Filipino community, attended the ceremony, together with more than a dozen of their priests and Cardinal Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles.
“Each one of us faces a challenge which life itself brings: the challenge of having a purpose, a destiny, and of striving for it,” the Pope said. “Too many young people do not realize that they themselves are the ones who are mainly responsible for giving a worthwhile meaning to their lives.”
In remarks that echoed a speech he made at the last Youth Day in Denver in 1993, the Pope warned against alienating influences.
“False teachers, many belonging to an intellectual elite in the worlds of science, culture and the media, present an anti-Gospel. They declare that every ideal is dead, contributing in this way to the profound moral crisis affecting society,” the Pope said. “When you ask them, ‘What must I do?’ their only certainty is that there is no definite truth, no sure path. They want you to be like them: doubtful and cynical.”
Such counsel, the Pope said, has led millions of young people around the world to “a sad loneliness in which they are deprived of reasons for hope and are incapable of real love.”
Among the pilgrims in the park were a handful of Chinese priests who belong to the Catholic Patriotic Assn., which is sponsored by China’s Communist government, does not recognize papal authority and appoints its own bishops.
A papal broadcast transmitted to China on Saturday from the church’s Manila-based Radio Veritas praised a separate, underground Catholic community in China. John Paul’s remarks made clear that loyalty to the Pope is the bottom line for complete reconciliation with the church.
Favoring a right leg he broke last spring, the Pope bore up well Saturday under the heat, the crowds and the jet lag. It was the penultimate day of his four-day Manila visit, and the first in which he undertook a full round of morning, afternoon and evening appearances.
Security was tight. The Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, grinned broadly as he was frisked by a metal detector before a morning Mass on Saturday. The Vatican insisted, though, that it was unaware of any particular threat, despite reports that Muslim extremists were plotting against the Pope.
“We are not especially concerned. Nothing has changed in our plans, and nothing will change for the rest of the stay of the Holy Father here,” Vatican spokesman Navarro told reporters.
The United States said Saturday that it has dispatched security specialists to Manila and other Asian capitals to guard against a reported plot by Muslim extremists to bomb U.S. planes.
John Paul will leave Manila on Monday morning to fly to Papua New Guinea for a two-day visit. From there, he will journey to Australia and Sri Lanka before returning to Rome at week’s end.