Pope Francis holds historic public mass in UAE



Pope Francis blesses a child as he arrives to lead mass for an estimated 170,000 Catholics at the Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi on February 5th. [Karim Sahib/AFP]

Pope Francis held a historic public mass for an estimated 170,000 Catholics at a stadium in the capital of the UAE on Tuesday (February 5th), capping the first ever papal visit to the Gulf where Islam was born, AFP reported.

The pontiff waved at the enthusiastic crowd carrying yellow Vatican flags and banners as he rode in an open-top Popemobile 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.

Francis, who has made outreach to Muslim communities a cornerstone of his papacy, wrapped up his historic three-day visit with the mass.

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.


Christian worshippers attend a mass, led by Pope Francis, at the Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi on February 5th. [Giuseppe Cacace/AFP]

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.

The UAE invited the pope to visit as part of its 2019 "Year of Tolerance" which has its own designated ministry.

End to wars

On Monday, the pope called for an end to wars in the turbulent Middle East, including in Yemen and Syria, at a meeting with a top sheikh and rabbi in the UAE.

All religious leaders have a "duty to reject every nuance of approval from the word war", he told the interfaith meeting.

"I am thinking in particular of Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Libya," he said.

While the pope did not openly discuss politics, he called for "the full recognition" of the rights of people across the Middle East.

"I look forward to societies where people of different beliefs have the same right of citizenship and where only in the case of violence in any of its forms is that right removed," he said.

At their meeting Monday, the pope and Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, grand imam of Cairo's Al-Azhar, signed a document on "human fraternity for world peace", hailed by the Vatican as an "important step forward in the dialogue between Christians and Muslims".

It called for "freedom of belief", the "promotion of a culture of tolerance", the "protection of places of worship" and "full citizenship" rights for minorities.

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Very good. For nations to coexist, acceptance the others and their beliefs help spread peace among nations.