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C apping the First Ever Visit to the Gulf: Pope Francis Held A Historic Public Mass In the UAE
Pope Francis
Pope Francis held a historic public mass for an estimated 170,000 Catholics at a stadium in the capital of the United Arab Emirates on February 5, capping the first ever papal visit to the Gulf where Islam was born, according to a foreign news source from Abu Dhabi.
The pontiff waved at the enthusiastic crowd carrying yellow Vatican flags and banners as he rode in an open-top Pope mobile into Zayed Sports City Stadium, where an altar with a large cross was set up for the unprecedented open-air service in a country that normally restricts worship to inside churches.
The UAE borders Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, but unlike its larger neighbor, which outlaws all non-Muslim places of worship, Abu Dhabi allows Christians among its large migrant workforce to practice their faith discreetly.
Francis, who has made outreach to Muslim communities a cornerstone of his papacy, wrapped up his historic three-day visit with the mass. The pope's public comments in Abu Dhabi have centered on calls to end wars across the Middle East and protect the rights of all citizens. In a homily on February 5, he turned to the tens of thousands of migrant workers living in the Emirates.
"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. "But the Lord is faithful and does not abandon his people."
Pope Francis' trip has been warmly welcomed by Filipino and Indian Catholics among the UAE's huge migrant work-force. About one million Catholics live in the country, or about one in 10 UAE residents.
Asian nationals make up some 65% of the population and are crucial to all sectors in the oil-rich Gulf state, from construction to services and hotels. The son of Italian immigrants who was raised in Argentina, Jorge Bergoglio - or Pope Francis - has paid particular attention to migrants and refugees during his papacy.
Inside the stadium on February 5, 50,000 Catholics with tickets to the mass cheered the pope on, with one small group hoisting a pink poster-board which read: "We the Catholics of Yemen love you". Another 120,000 gathered outside, watching via video link on large screens.
Parishes across the UAE said 135,000 tickets to the pope's mass were distributed to parishioners. Some 4,000 tickets had been given to Muslims to attend the mass, according to the local churches.
A choir sang hymns as the pope, joined by priests of different nationalities, began the service at around 10:30 (0630 GMT), broadcast live on Emirati television.
The UAE invited the Pope to visit as part of its 2019 "Year of Tolerance" which has its own designated ministry. Tolerance Minister Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak greeted the crowd at the stadium.★