Pope Francis to hold historic Mass on Arabian Peninsula

Wednesday, 06 Feb, 2019

He also praised the courage of a little girl who broke through the police barricades to hand-deliver a letter to the pope as he zoomed around Abu Dhabi's sports stadium before Mass in his pope mobile.

The visit received some positive media attention in neighbouring Saudi Arabia, home to Islam's holiest sites and where churches are banned. The community includes large numbers of people from the Philippines and India.

"The Lord specializes in doing new things; he can even open paths in the desert", he added. Many attendees wore white baseball caps, waving Vatican City flags and cheering as Francis entered in a white, convertible popemobile. "There are special bonds between us, '" he said.

It included groups that have not been designated as terrorist groups by either the USA or Europe, such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim advocacy and civil rights group in the U.S., as well as Islamic Relief Worldwide, a UK-based humanitarian aid organisation with operations around the world.

Anticipation for the mass, the pope's largest single event during his visit to the region, has built steadily in recent days.

The Pope said he came to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to thank the Christians for "the way in which you live the Gospel we heard". He said, "The people who are going are happy about it, but there are many who will not get to see the Pope".

"This is my faith, and Jesus is everything to me", she told AFP.

During the service, the Pope spoke in Italian and English, which is widely spoken in the U.A.E. where expatriates outnumber Emiratis 9 to 1.

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". "This is something that was not obvious three to five years ago".

The sheikh, during his address, called the pope "my dear brother".

By 8 a.m. (0400 GMT), worshipers of some 100 nationalities had filled the stadium.

"I know (people) who had a tough year last year, and I'm praying for them to have a good one this year".

He will also host a papal mass at the Zayed Sports City on Tuesday.

"I ask for you the grace to preserve peace, unity, to take care of each other, with that lovely fraternity in which there are no first- or second-class Christians", he told the Catholics living in the UAE.

The UAE, which prides itself on its religious diversity in the Gulf, is also a member of the US-led coalition battling the Islamic State group in both Syria and Iraq.

"The leadership & nation of the UAE are proud of this historic visit of two greatly respected religious figures".

The Pope kisses a child during a visit to the St Joseph's Cathedral in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday.

Majority belong to the nine Catholic Churches of the Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia that ministers to the faithful in the UAE, Yemen, and Oman.

On Monday, he met with Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, the grand imam of Al-Azhar University in Cairo, a prominent center of learning for Sunni Islam.

"The Arab region.for a very long time allowed rigid voices to hijack religious discourse, and it is time to correct the error".