Pope Francis Ends Asia Trip Where He Preached on Behalf of Poor

Thousands of Filipinos lined Manila’s roads to bid farewell to Pope Francis at the end of a five-day trip in which he denounced corruption and pleaded for compassion and aid for the poor and needy.

The pope stood in an open-topped car waving to the crowds en route to the Villamor air base, where he boarded a plane for Rome. The visit to Asia’s most-Catholic country was his second trip to the region, considered a growth area for a faith on the decline in its Europe heartland.

He drew about 6 million people yesterday to a mass in central Manila’s Rizal Park, topping the crowd that turned out for Pope John Paul II 20 years ago. Many people wore plastic raincoats, spilling onto main roads, chanting “Papa Francisco, we love you.”

The Argentine pontiff used the trip to preach a message of compassion and justice, while upholding the conservative doctrines of the church. From the halls of the presidential palace to the streets of storm-battered Tacloban and Palo in Leyte province, Francis also pitched for a wider participation of women in society, care of the environment and the shunning of corruption.

“Filipinos are called to be outstanding missionaries of the faith in Asia,” Francis said during the two-hour mass. He called on people in the Philippines “to work together, protecting one another, beginning with your families and communities, in building a world of justice, integrity and peace.”

The pope’s defense of the poor has particular resonance in the Philippines where about 25 percent of the population of more than 100 million live below the poverty line of $1.2 a day, according to USAID, the U.S. government’s main poverty fighting agency.

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The pope also weighed into the debates on free speech and climate change during the trip. Speaking about the Paris attacks on his flight to the Philippines from Sri Lanka, he said that killing in the name of God was an “aberration,” while he defended limits on freedom of expression, saying “you cannot insult other people’s faith. He also said that man ‘‘continuously slaps down nature’’ and is primarily responsible for climate change.

The Philippines is the bulkhead of the faith in Asia, accounting for 60 percent of the 130 million Catholics in the region. Asians now make up about 12 percent of the global population of Catholics, up from 5 percent in 1910, when 65 percent of the faithful were in Europe, according to a Pew Research Center survey. Europe now accounts for less than a quarter of world Catholics.

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