Pope Francis left the Philippines Monday morning bound for Rome after a 4-day visit to the country that culminated yesterday with the largest Mass in history, attended by 6 to 7 million people.
Just outside the airport, the Pope tweeted:
To my friends in Sri Lanka and the Philippines: May God bless you all! Please pray for me.
— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) January 19, 2015
En route to the airport, the Pope was accompanied by hundreds of thousands of Filipinos, who lined the streets from the Vatican embassy in Manila all the way to Villamor Airbase. The people shouted, waved, and many cried.
Philippine President Benigno Aquino also came to say goodbye to Pope Francis, as did Manila’s archbishop, Luis Antonio Tagle, and other government officials.
A troupe of children gave a festive touch to the airport farewell, entertaining the pontiff with a native dance. In the Philippines where 80% of the 100-million population are Catholic, Francis is known as Lolo Kiko, or “Grandpa Francis.”
Finally, the papal plane, including the 77 international journalists who have followed the pope’s visit, took off from the airbase at 10:12 AM local time. The flight has an expected duration of 14 hours and 40 minutes and should reach Rome’s Ciampino airport at 5:40 PM after flying over eleven countries.
While in the Philippines the Pope made a point of visiting the victims of the deadly 2013 Typhoon Haiyan in the city of Tacloban but had to cut short his visit because of Tropical Storm Mekkhala.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome