Seeing is believing: From millions watching the Pope to masses of meditating monks, incredible images capture the world’s biggest religious gatherings
Published: 07:43 EDT, 20 March 2017 | Updated: 07:43 EDT, 20 March 2017
Thousands of Muslims in Tongi, near Dhaka in Bangladesh, take Friday prayers in congregation grounds as part of Biswa Istema in 2016, the second largest religious gathering of Muslims in the world
Millions of Muslims from across the globe travel to Saudi Arabia to complete the Hajj pilgrimage in the holy city of Mecca each year (pictured). The journey is seen as one of the five pillars of Islam
Of the entire world population, only around seven per cent say they don’t believe in God.
So it’s no surprise that religious ceremonies regularly draw together some of the biggest crowds on the planet.
Every year, millions of Muslims flock to Saudi Arabia to complete the Hajj pilgrimage in the holy city of Mecca – a sacred journey expected of every Muslim at least once during their lifetime, provided they can afford it and are physically able.
Crowds have in the past grown so large that in 2015, an estimated 2,300 people were crushed or suffocated to death in Mecca – the biggest Hajj disaster in history.
In 1995, a record four million people congregated to watch Pope John Paul II celebrate a Mass marking World Youth Day in Manila, the Philippines. The crowds were so overwhelming in this case that the Pope had to arrive via helicopter.
Other images rounded up in this collection include self-flagellation processions. These see worshippers whip themselves – a bloody act of devotion found throughout the history of almost every religion ever known.
In 1995, a record four million people congregated to watch Pope John Paul II celebrate a Mass marking the end of the World Youth Day in Manila, the Philippines. The crowds were so overwhelming he had to arrive via helicopter (pictured)
In Chiang Mai, Thai monks meditate during the traditional Buddhist alms-giving ceremony in the early morning, an event which draws annual crowds of around 10,000
In Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City in December 2015, thousands attend a candlelit Amitabha Buddhist ceremony
Worshippers pictured here in 2009 fill the streets in Mecca. In 2015, a stampede killed around 2,300 people, such was the sheer weight of the crowd
In March 2013, up to an estimated 200,000 people attended Pope Francis’ Inauguration Mass at St Peter’s Square in Rome’s Vatican City to mark the official start of his papacy
The new Pope greeted political and religious leaders from far and wide
People from around the world gathered to welcome the next leader of the Roman Catholic Church, and their flags were proudly put on show
Pope Francis, pictured celebrating Mass in Turin, Italy, in 2015, continues to pull in huge crowds wherever he goes
Pakistani Shiite Muslims participate in ritual self-flagellation during a religious procession in Islamabad in November 2016, held across the country to mark the 40th day of mourning after the anniversary of the death of Imam Hussain, the grandson of the Prophet Mohammed
In March 2016, in San Fernando, the Philippines, a procession of Catholic flagellants whipped themselves in an act of devotion to God on Good Friday
The same year, Indian Shiite Muslims flagellated themselves in a procession during a ceremony to mark the Muslim festival of Ashura, which mourns the death of Imam Hussein
It is marked by ten days of mourning, in which many devotees whip and cut themselves with chains and knives and some drive knives into their scalps. These brutal acts are seen as a way of washing away sins
In aid of the same ceremony, Pakistani Shiite Muslims beat their chests as they participate in the ritual self-flagellation in Lahore in November 2016
In August 2016, more than 30,000 Muslims gathered in the UK at Oakland Farm in Alton, Hampshire, to pray and participate in a Pledge of Allegiance ceremony, reaffirming their loyalty to their country of residence
The Ahmadiyya Muslim community (pictured) has 129 branches across the UK including the Baitul Futuh mosque in south London, the largest in western Europe
Jewish men pray at the Western Wall – also known as the Wailing Wall – in the Old City of Jerusalem, Israel. It attracts millions of visitors a year, and is Judaism’s holiest site, a remnant of the Second Jewish Temple that was built by Herod the Great and destroyed by the Roman Empire nearly 2,000 years ago
Thousands of Jewish men draped in prayer shawls assemble at the Western Wall during Passover in April 2016
Pictured in February, Hasidic Rabbi Elimelech Biderman celebrates tisch with his Jewish followers, a regular ceremony in which he shares his teachings with the crowd in Meron, Israel. Events like this attract thousands of devout attendees
In India’s region of Allahabad, Hindu devotees come to the confluence of the Ganges and the Yamuna River in 2013 during the festival of Kumbh Mela – the world’s largest religious gathering, held every 12 years
The Kumbh Mela draws massive crowds as around 120million pilgrims bathe in the Indian holy river to wash away their sins
Buddhist monks pray to Buddha with candles at a festival in Chiang Rai, Thailand
In China, Tibetan Buddhist monks sit in sub-zero temperatures during a morning chanting session at the annual Bliss Dharma Assembly at the Larung Wuming Buddhist Institute in October 2015 to mark Buddha’s descent from the heavens
Muslims in July 2014 celebrate Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the month of Ramadan, in Ahmedabad, India
In India, spring is welcomed each year after a full moon in March during the festival of Holi, pictured here being celebrated in Vrindavan, Uttar Pradesh, in 2016
Holi isn’t just celebrated in India. Pictured here is a crowd of more than 80,000 attendants at the 2013 Festival of Colors in Utah, at the Sri Radha Krishna Temple
Also known as the Festival of Colour, Hindus and tourists alike plaster each other with powdered pigments and dance all day
Father Pedro Opeka, an Argentinian Catholic priest, during one of his popular Masses in Antananarivo, Madagascar. He was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2013 for his missionary work
In Gondar, Ethiopia, in January 2016, worshippers gather for Timket, the holiest holiday on the Ethiopian Orthodox Christian calendar