Though the final figures are not yet in, reports now estimate that some seven million people attended Pope Francis’ Philippines Mass in Manila on Sunday, making it one of the largest gatherings in human history.
When Pope John Paul II said Mass in Manila in 1995, he drew between 4 and 5 million people, making it the tenth largest assembly on record. “Top ten” lists place John Paul’s funeral in 2005 in the ninth place, suggesting that it topped his Manila Mass in numbers, though other lists switch the order. Up until now, it was the largest Christian meeting ever.
If numbers hold for Francis’ Mass today, it will moved to eighth place on the list, following the funeral of the Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran from June 3, 1989. The funeral was supposed to have drawn as many as 8 million mourners, though estimates actually range from 2 to 9 million.
The largest recorded gathering in history was the month-long Maha Kumbh Mela festival from January to February 2001 in Allahabad, North India. As many as seventy-five million pilgrims are reported to have attended and the crowd was so immense that it was visible from space.
By way of comparison, the largest music concert in history was Rod Stewart’s New Year’s celebration in 1994, held at Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana Beach, which is said to have been attended by some 3.5 million people. The famous Woodstock festival, on the other hand, pales somewhat in comparison, having pulled in only around 400,000 in 1969. This figure is sufficient, however, to put Woodstock on the top ten list for music concert attendance, and make it one of the largest human gatherings in US history. Another was Pope John Paul II’s Mass celebrated in Grant Park (Chicago) on October 5, 1979. Officials estimated the crowd to be as large as 1.5 million people.
The huge turnout for Pope Francis’ Manila Mass illustrates the growth of Christianity in Asia. In all of Asia there are some 130 million Catholics, and the Philippines is home to 60% of them. It is one of only two countries in Asia with a Catholic majority, the other being East Timor.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome