Pope to end record-setting Asia tour

Pope Francis will fly back to Rome on Monday after a dramatic week in Asia that saw him draw record crowds and hammer home his pro-poor message to millions. The pontiff visited Sri Lanka and the Philippines on his second trip to Asia in five months, as he seeks to promote the Catholic Church in one of its most important growth regions. Throughout his stay in the Philippines — where a quarter of the population lives on 60 cents a day or less — the pope railed against the forces that entrench poverty. The Philippines is famed as the Catholic Church’s bastion in Asia, with 80 percent of the former Spanish colony’s 100 million people following the faith.

Some of you have lost part of your families. All I can do is keep silent. And I walk with you all with my silent heart.

Pope Francis

But even the pope was stunned at the size of the crowd, which surpassed the previous world record of five million during a mass by John Paul II at the same venue in 1995. The pope said the main reason for visiting the Philippines was to meet survivors of Super Typhoon Haiyan, the strongest storm ever recorded on land which claimed more than 7,350 lives in November 2013. Francis had planned to spend a full day in communities where homes were flattened by monster winds and tsunami-like ocean surges, but was forced to return to Manila to avoid another tropical storm.