Tens of thousands attend first papal mass on Arabian Peninsula

ABU DHABI: Tens of thousands of Catholics and several thousand Muslims attended an unprecedented public celebration of Mass on Tuesday by Pope Francis, the first pontiff in history to visit the Arabian Peninsula.
More than 120,000 worshippers packed Zayed Sports City stadium and its surroundings in Abu Dhabi to see the pope, who is in the country to promote inter-faith dialogue.
The UAE hosts about half of the two million expatriate Catholics living on the peninsula. The community includes large numbers of people from the Philippines and India.
“It is most certainly not easy for you to live far from home, missing the affection of your loved ones, and perhaps also feeling uncertainty about the future,” the pope said, telling those gathered to draw inspiration from Saint Anthony the Abbot, the founder of monasticism in the desert.
“The Lord specialises in doing new things; he can even open paths in the desert,” he said at the end of a trip where he met with the grand imam of Egypt’s Al Azhar mosque and UAE leaders.
Francis entered the stadium in a white open top jeep to roars from the crowd. People wearing white baseball caps emblazoned with the visit logo packed the stadium stands and snapped pictures on their smartphones.
Thousands of people cheering and waving Vatican flags lined the entrance to the stadium, with the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and Abu Dhabi’s skyscrapers glinting in the distance.
Organisers said Catholics from about 100 nations were expected to attend the Mass, along with about 4,000 Muslims, including government officials.
The pope, who arrived on Sunday at the invitation of Abu Dhabi’s crown prince, has used the visit to condemn regional wars, including that in Yemen. He also called for greater cooperation between Christians and Muslims.
During the service the pope spoke in Italian and English, which is widely spoken in the UAE. The congregation prayed for migrant workers and their families and for the ending of wars.
The ceremony ended with a prayer, a thunderous round of applause from the crowd and organ music.
“It’s a dream come true. I feel blessed,” said Rio Chavez, a 40-year-old security officer who has been in the UAE for five years. “This pope’s voice is heard, so our hope and prayer is that this historic visit brings peace to this strife-torn region,” said Clitus Almeida, an Indian engineer who works in Dubai. — Reuters