MANILA (AFP) - Hundreds of people queued in the Philippines on Tuesday to kiss the hair, bloodstained clothing and a cassock of the late Pope John Paul II, beseeching the soon-to-be-sainted Polish pontiff to perform miracles for them.
"I am so happy. I am ready to die now that I have seen his relics," retired grade school teacher Gene Suarez, 67, told AFP at a small Manila chapel where they went on display.
Visitors with smart phones, computer tablets and compact cameras snapped pictures of Karol Wojtyla's hair strands, a bloodstained piece of fabric, a skullcap, cassock, and a strip of the sheet from his deathbed.
After a packed midday mass attended by about 300 people, worshippers lined up to kiss and touch their handkerchiefs on the items, some of which were encased in gilt-edged glass boxes.
Also on show were mementoes from a mass that John Paul II celebrated in Manila in 1981, when he beatified a Filipino religious martyr, and a second in 1995 for World Youth Day.
The relics will be exhibited at several churches and other venues in the Philippines over the next two months, tapping in to the excitement in Asia's Catholic outpost at his canonisation on April 27.
"This pope was a lot like us Filipinos," said Manila Bible teacher Lolit Legazpi, 42.
"His heart was close to children and he was a devoted follower of the Virgin Mary," she told AFP.
Former textile factory worker Ronnie Fernandez was elated he finally "saw" a pope after missing out on both papal visits.
"He inspired me to devote my full time in the service of the Lord," said Fernandez, who in 1988 quit his job and set up a Catholic group that organises religious processions and prayer rallies.
Some visitors said they prayed to John Paul II to help them solve their problems.
"I hope he will be able to perform a miracle for me," said ex-teacher Suarez, who said she had run up 600,000 pesos (S$16,900) in debts to a loanshark, with no hope of repaying them on her meagre pension.
Catholic nun Remy Ann Abuna, 61, who teaches sign language to the deaf, said she asked John Paul II to cure her asthma and bring her two siblings back into the fold.
"My sister used to be a very religious person, but now that her family is better off, the entire family no longer prays. It's the same thing with my brother," she added.
There are about 80 million Filipino Catholics in the Asian nation of 100 million, according to church leaders.
The religion was introduced nearly 500 years ago when Spain colonised the islands.