Pope Francis Celebrates Mass in Abu Dhabi

Arturo Kim
February 6, 2019

He is due to hold an open-air mass on Tuesday for 135,000 of the Muslim country's million Catholic residents, set to be the largest ever public gathering in the Gulf state. It's all part of the Emirates' "Year of Tolerance" and its effort to show its openness to other faiths in a region otherwise known for severe restrictions on religions outside of Islam.

Before Mass, the leader of the world's Catholics circled the stadium in his popemobile, waving to the crowd as it responded it cheers and chants of support.

The head of the Roman Catholic Church was greeted at the Presidential Palace by Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan and his entourage in the Emirati capital this morning.

"May your communities be oases of peace", the pontiff, who arrived in Abu Dhabi on Sunday on a three-day trip, told over 120,000 worshippers, mostly migrants, at the Zayed Sports City Stadium.

"We have to say it is really a big event for us which we never expected", said Sumitha Pinto, and Indian native who has lived in the UAE for almost 20 years.

"I know (people) who had a tough year last year, and I'm praying for them to have a good one this year". He also called on Muslims in the West to integrate in their host nations and respect local laws. Majority are from the Philippines and India and have left family behind to come for jobs in the Emirates where they can face precarious work conditions. They can face precarious labor conditions, which human rights groups regularly denounce. The pontiff spoke in Italian and English during mass, with words translated on video screens in Arabic.

Addressing the crowds at the service, the Pope said: "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". They have also faced legal and social discrimination, as well as restrictions on their ability to practice their faith.

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"This is a message of peace for all the world". "There are special bonds between us, '" he said.

"He is nearly divine. The UAE is pursuing a path of religious tolerance and peace that I pray other countries in the region would follow". "His simplicity and humility is always praise worthy".

A prayer in the Indian language of Konkani called for public officials to be "illuminated" and promote the dignity of all, while the one in the Filipino language of Tagalog urged prayers for migrants and workers in in the UAE so that "their sacrifice and work may blossom and sustain their families".

Pope Francis became the first pontiff to deliver Mass in the Arabian Peninsula, the birthplace of Islam, on Tuesday, speaking in front of tens of thousands of people in Abu Dhabi at the end of a historic visit to the United Arab Emirates.

The Mass concluded around noon and the pope departed about an hour later on a chartered Etihad flight to return to Vatican City.

"We thus call upon all concerned to stop using religions to incite hatred, violence, extremism and blind fanaticism, and to refrain from using the name of God to justify acts of murder, exile, terrorism and oppression", the text declared.

The Pope quoted from St. Francis of Assisi's Earlier Rule regarding approaches to "Saracens and non-Christians": "Let them not get into arguments or disagreements, but be subject to every human creature out of love for God, and let them profess that they are Christians".

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