Expert: Papal Mass Numbers Were Largely Exaggerated

crowdAn image from the broadcast of the Papal Mass

The original estimate of attendance at the Papal Mass was upwards of 1.5 million.  Then, the number became a much smaller 1 million.  During the broadcasts of the Papal Mass, the numbers floated around were about 800,000.  So, how many people were there really?

On, professor of crowd science G. Keith Still (I had no idea that such a professorship existed!) found the number to be much less than the stated estimates:

The rough estimate for the western end of Parkway was performed by G. Keith Still, a professor of crowd science at Manchester Metropolitan University in England.

He relied on an Inquirer photograph taken at 5 p.m. from the Top of the Tower restaurant, on the 51st floor of 3 Logan Square.

Still estimated a density of 3 to 4 people per square meter in the portion of the roadway from Eakins Oval to just past 22nd Street. From there to Logan Square, it thinned out to about 1 or 2 people per square meter, Still estimated after examining the photo.

He also added in crowds in adjacent ball fields and on the north side of the Franklin Institute, where densities appeared to be in the range of 3 to 4 people per square meter.

After adding up all those areas, equivalent to about 11 acres, Still came up with a total attendance in the range of 80,000 to 142,000 for the entire western end of the Parkway.

Still cited exaggerated numbers at the Royal Wedding as how common exaggerated crowd numbers were.  There were 80,000 tickets distributed for the ticketed area of the Parkway, and as I noted before, some people kept the tickets as a souvenir, rather than attending.

Regardless of the actual number, City of Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter said that people having a good experience and staying safe were what mattered, not numbers:

“That’s the measure of success, not exactly how many people came or showed up,” he said. “We’ll look at information that gets compiled. We’ll try to figure it out.”

Many attendees reported having a life-changing experience.

After all, Jesus said, “Where two or three are gathered…”   I think that it is safe to say that the criteria of Jesus was met.


  1. I remember all the preparations for, and singing in the choir, for JPII’s visit to Washinton in 1979. I was a student at Catholic University at the time. The projection was for over 1 million for the mass on.the National Mall. The final tally was around 240,000.

  2. Alan #2 – I too was a student at CUA in ’79 singing in the chorus. I remember when JPII exited the field house the chorus was supposed to be singing something fff but a majority of the students were snapping shots with the little disposable cameras we had back then. I think the director could have killed us!

  3. Ah, that venerable tradition of ecclesiastical crowd inflation. While working on the chancery staff in St. Paul and Minneapolis, we would boost the numbers of Catholics in the archdiocese in hopes of getting a second auxiliary bishop (and to hide loss of Catholic population) while not boosting numbers too much so at to prevent us from being kicked up to a higher USCCB diocesan “tax bracket.”

  4. The deacons I saw coming back under the yellow and white Vatican Umbrellas had ciboria full of Hosts. I was about 15 people from the end of the Communion line in my section and the Deacon had about 5/6 of his ciborium still full.

    My sense having seen a number of these events is that the numbers are initially exaggerated and that if a million point five people did show up in Philly, the security at the scanning gates would have been more overwhelmed more than they were.

    Still the music, pomp, and the Papal presence made it an event of great prayer and witness.

  5. We waited in line four hours on one of the main access routes and only made in for Communion. My wife received but the Minister ran out of hosts before I could receive. We were so far back in the sea of people (and there were thousands behind us) we couldn’t even get close enough to see the jumbotron of the Mass – let alone see the Pope.

    I’ve been to several of the March for Life events in DC (which typically attract upwards of 500,000); this was by far the largest crowd of people I’ve ever seen.

    Very sad to see pilgrims in costume who traveled from other countries who, like us, waited in line for hours and hours only to miss the entire event – even Communion.

    BTW – the Secret Service – who seem to have caused the bottleneck – were not checking tickets. So, folks without tickets were being admitted the same as those with tickets.

    A very bitter experience – in one sense – but I’m happy so many folks were motivated to see the Pope and attend Mass with the Vicar of Christ.

  6. A new lower bound to the crowd comes from the number of hosts distributed (260,000–which doesn’t account for those who did not receive), as per:

    This is in remarkable agreement with the JPII numbers quoted above.
    But what I find amazing is that the expert analysis gives so much less than a million based on the space and crowding on the parkway, leading one to ask how anyone conceived a million would have fit in the first place!

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