The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby; Pope Francis; and the Moderator of the Church of Scotland, Iain Greenshields, lead a prayer service for Catholic, Anglican and Presbyterian christians in Juba, Sudan. / Vatican Media
Pope Francis landed in South Sudan on Feb. 3, 2023, becoming the first pope to visit the country and fulfilling a yearslong hope to carry out an ecumenical trip to the war-torn country. / Vatican Media
Speaking in Our Lady of Congo Cathedral in Kinshasa on Feb. 2, 2023, the pope encouraged priests and religious to continue to bring the Congolese people Jesus, who “heals the wounds of every human heart.” / Vatican Media
Papal Masses, especially in the last 50 years or so, have attracted crowds of millions — many of them at World Youth Days, the massive gatherings of young people that began in 1987 and take place every few years.
Here’s an inexhaustive ranking of some of the biggest papal Masses:
Pope Francis, Manila, 2015: 6-7 million
Residents of the historically Catholic Philippines made a tremendous showing at the final Mass of Pope Francis’ 2015 trip to the Philippines. By official estimates, between 6 and 7 million people packed into Rizal Park in Manila at the final public event during his Jan. 15–19 trip to the country.
The Mass is thought to be the largest papal event in history.
Pope John Paul II, Manila, 1995: 5 million
An estimated 5 million people turned out for Mass celebrated by the future saint, who was the most traveled pope ever and possibly the most-seen person in history. The attendance numbers set a record that would take years to be broken.
Pope Francis, Rio de Janeiro, 2013: 3 million
Pope Francis’ celebration of the final Mass at World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro — his first World Youth Day — set a record as the largest papal event since Manila in 1995. The mayor’s office of Rio de Janeiro estimated that 3.2 million people attended the liturgy at the famous Copacabana Beach.
Pope Francis, Krakow, 2013: 1.5-3 million
Original estimates were of “at least 1.5 million” attendees at the Mass, based on the number of people at the vigil the night before. Though Polish police did not give an estimate, World Youth Day spokesperson Anna Chmura later told Agence France Presse there were “between 2.5 and 3 million people.”
Pope Francis, Kinshasa, 2023: 1 million
The Mass in Kinshasa, DRC’s capital city, took place on the airfield of the N’Dolo Airport on the second day of the pope’s trip to two countries in central and east Africa.
Pope Francis celebrated Mass in French, the official language of DRC, and Lingala, the Bantu-based creole spoken in parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo and by millions of speakers across Central Africa. The pope delivered his homily in Italian with French translations for the Mass, which was celebrated according to the Zaire Use of the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite.