ROME — Pope Francis remains a powerful magnet for humanity, drawing almost 6 million people to events in Rome during the course of 2014, according to figures released Monday by the Vatican.
The numbers represent a small dip from 2013, when Vatican statistics showed that 6.6 million people attended events led by Pope Francis in Rome. Nonetheless, they still are substantially higher than the totals for Pope Benedict XVI, who in 2011 drew just 2.5 million.
Each year, the Prefecture for the Pontifical Household releases year-end totals for the number of people who attended general audiences, special audiences, liturgical events, and Sunday Angelus addresses with the pope.
For 2014, those numbers show that 1.2 million people attended Pope Francis’ 43 regular Wednesday general audiences, and almost 600,000 attended his special audiences. An estimated 1.1 million attended his liturgical events, and more than 3 million turned out for his Angelus addresses.
The numbers for the Angelus are generally the largest because they’re held in St. Peter’s Square, which can hold 141,000 people when it’s completely full, and they take place on Sundays when it’s easier to assemble large crowds.
Francis’ total of 1.1 million for his general audiences rivals the statistical peaks achieved under Pope John Paul II, who only twice broke the million mark — in 1979, the first full year after his election, with 1.585 million, and the Jubilee Year of 2000, with 1.463 million.
Vatican statistics do not distinguish among people who may have attended more than one event, and hence cannot be taken as an absolute total of the number of people who saw Pope Francis in person during the year.
The Easter period in April was the statistical peak in 2014, with more than 200,000 people attending the pope’s general audiences and almost three-quarters of a million taking part in his liturgical events.
The numbers released Monday do not reflect the crowds drawn by the pope during his foreign travels in 2014, though they generally weren’t massive because the pope’s destinations, such as Israel, South Korea, and Turkey, are not majority Catholic nations.
In 2013, however, Pope Francis traveled to Brazil, where he twice drew crowds in excess of 3 million people to Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana Beach. In total, therefore, 2013 is still Francis’ statistical high-water mark in terms of crowd size.
That mark, however, is almost certain to fall in 2015, because Francis will be in the Philippines from Jan. 15-18.
With a Catholic population of 80 million people, the Philippines is the third-largest Catholic nation on earth after Brazil and Mexico. When Pope John Paul II visited the country in 1995 for World Youth Day, he drew a crowd for his final Mass estimated at 5 million people, the largest number ever to attend a single papal event.
Organizers in the Philippines say that Francis may well get an even larger number for his Jan. 18 Mass at Manila’s Rizal Park, perhaps as many as 6 million. It’s possible, therefore, that on one Sunday in January, Francis may exceed his turnout total for all of 2014 in Rome.