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MANILA — Pope Francis wrapped up his last full day in the Philippines with a record-setting rain-soaked mass for millions, urging crowds gathered to protect children from ending up on the streets.
Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi told NBC News that according to Filipino authorities, 6 million people turned out for the pope in Manila — making it the biggest papal event in history. The turnout surpassed the 5 million who turned out there in 1995 to hear Pope John Paul II's mass.
"This is the largest event in the history of popes," Lombardi said, calling the crowds "extraordinary."
"The Pope was touched by the numbers — he appreciated it very much," he added.
The pope arrived in Manila's Rizal Park wearing his now-familiar yellow poncho, which has made several appearances given the storms accompanying his week-long visit to Asia. He stopped to kiss children and bless statues held aloft by those gathered in the pouring rain as he headed to an altar to deliver his last homily of the trip.
In his address to the drenched crowds, Francis urged protection for children so they won't be tempted by sin or the devil — or distracted by "promises of ephemeral pleasures, superficial pastimes."
"We need to care for our young people, not allowing them to be robbed of hope and condemned to a life on the streets," he said.
Francis' homily was the capstone of a day focused on youth, which began with a meeting with thousands of Filipino youth at a Catholic university.
The visit took an emotional turn when former street child Glycelle Aries Palomar, 12, broke down in tears as she asked the pope why God allows the suffering of children.
The pope hugged a crying Palomar and told her that her question "doesn't have an answer."
"Only when we too will learn how to cry about the things you said, we can come close to replying," the pontiff told the sobbing girl. "Why do children suffer so much. Why? We need to learn to cry just like you did. Because tears clear the way to the truth.”
Reuters contributed to this report.