The Pope's visit to the Philippines from January 15 to 19 saw him celebrate Mass three times for the public -- at Manila Cathedral on January 16, at Tacloban on January 17, and a final Mass at the "Rizal Park" of Manila on January 18. This last Mass, the Philippine government claims, was attended by 4 million people, concelebrated by 2,500 priests and 200-250 bishops. (Numerous online sources mention 6-7 million at the Mass, but if the Philippine Star, one of that country's top broadsheets is correct, the actual breakdown is 4 million who attended the Mass, another 360,000 at the perimeters of the venue, and 2 million along the route of Pope Francis' motorcade from the Apostolic Nunciature in Manila to Rizal Park.)
More conservative estimates put the number at 3 million at the Rizal Park itself, if not a bit less than that. Regardless of the numbers, it was without doubt an enormous display of Filipino Catholic faith, in all its richness -- and poverty.
It helped that the Archdiocese of Manila had cancelled all afternoon Masses in the populous Archdiocese. (A large number of Filipinos still take their Sunday obligation very seriously.) A total of 2.5 million hosts were prepared for the Mass and were consecrated the day before. This is an important number to keep in mind when trying to understand the magnitude of what happened next. An article from the Philippine Daily Inquirer mentions that 5,000 "communion distributors" and 5,000 "communion ushers" were also present.
What happened next is reported by GMA Network, one of the Philippines' top two television channels:
On Sunday afternoon, millions of Filipinos got soaked under the rain just to attend Pope Francis' concluding Mass at the Quirino Grandstand. Instead of the difficult situation they were in, they still practiced "bayanihan," the Filipino brand of helping one another.
A report on 24 Oras on Monday said that during the communion part of the celebration, the attendees passed communion host for those who were at the back of the crowd pf mass-goers.
While the papal visit organizers have assigned priests and lay people to help keep the communion part of the Mass organized, the rain made it more difficult for them to reach those at the farthest parts of the park.
According to MMDA, there were around six million Filipinos--mostly in their raincoats--who attended Pope Francis' mass.
Vatican Press Office director Fr. Federico Lombardi also said during a news conference on Sunday after the Mass that Philippine officials that there were six to seven million people at Luneta and surrounding areas.
He also said that the event may be the biggest pope event in history, if the number is verified.
Various pictures and videos are now circulating on social media networks showing the "passing around" of the hosts. The video of the Mass on the Vatican Youtube site shows the passing of the hosts shortly after the 1:46:08 minute mark, and again beginning at 1:47:18.
The situation could have been anticipated because the same thing happened at the Pope's first Mass during his trip, at the Manila Cathedral. An eyewitness account on the blog "Francis Fever" tells of what happened in painful detail.
The heartbreaking footnote to this otherwise euphoric papal visit is at least one instance of losing refinement and respect to Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. Sadder still, because it was instigated (or at least tolerated) by some Communion ministers.
Outside the Manila Cathedral, during Holy Communion of the Holy Father’s Mass with the clergy and the religious, at least two extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion (a nun and a monk?) pushed into the crowd to distribute the Consecrated Host. While not entirely proper, this should be tolerable. But what happened next was appalling.
Some of the crowd — who were at least two meters away from the ministers — cried for Holy Communion. Two or three soon called out, “Pasa-pasa nalang! (Just pass Them [the Sacred Hosts] around!)”
At first the ministers did not hear them, or probably ignored it. But the people were beginning to be noisy. Some of crowd, fortunately, said, “Uy, hindi pwedeng pasa-pasa! Komunyon yan!“
But the ministers were rather oblivious to the “debate.” Soon they DID pass around — from one grubby hand to another — the Sacred Hosts to the people who were asking for Communion. I saw one broken Host being handed on. Did the minister break It, or was It broken as It was being passed around? Worse, even the ciborium containing the Hosts was soon passed around!
Too distressed to bear the sight, I looked away. I was also unable to take better photos or videos.
About five minutes later, the crowd was satisfied, with the ministers still looking clueless about what they just did.
A video of the passing around of hosts at the Manila Cathedral Mass has been posted on Adelante La Fe. OnePeterFive has a copy of the video on Youtube:
Rorate has received further reports that in the culminating Mass of January 18, some of the people in the crowd split the hosts among themselves, and that some hosts fell into the mud.
At Tacloban, where an estimated 200,000 faithful attended Mass under intense rainfall, communion was not distributed at all due to the weather. (Source.) It has to be asked why the same decision was not made for Manila, where a similar situation was in place.
(Our thanks to Filipino friends and readers for the links and information in this post.)