Pope Francis holds historic public mass in UAE

Two men and a girl pose for a selfie with a cutout image of Pope Francis ahead of his visit to the United Arab Emirates
Credit GIUSEPPE CACACE AFP

Pope Francis ministered on Tuesday to the thriving Catholic community in the United Arab Emirates as he concluded his historic visit to the Arabian Peninsula with the first-ever papal Mass here and a call for his flock to remain meek in following God.

Later on Tuesday, Pope Francis celebrated an outdoor mass for some 135,000 Catholics in an Abu Dhabi sports stadium, an event with no precedent in the peninsula.

Pope Francis landed in the United Arab Emirates on Sunday for the first ever visit by a pontiff to the Arabian Peninsula - the birthplace of Islam.

Pope Francis, the leader of the Catholic Church, and Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, the head of Sunni Islam's most renowned seat of learning, arrived at the ceremony in Abu Dhabi hand-in-hand in a symbol of interfaith fraternity, reports The Guardian.

Catholics from about 100 nations were expected to attend the service, along with about 4,000 Muslims, according to organisers. "It is a document that invites all persons who have faith in God and faith in human fraternity to unite and work together so that it may serve as a guide for future generations to advance a culture of mutual respect in the awareness of the great divine grace that makes all human beings brothers and sisters".

"I call on the concerned parties and the global community to assure the distribution of food and work for the well-bring of Yemeni people", Francis said.

Delivering his first public speech in the region at the Founder's Memorial comprising Muslim, Christian, and Jewish leaders, Pope Francis mentioned the ongoing conflicts in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, and Libya, saying that everyone should reject war and violence. He said they discussed increased cooperation in several areas.

With a population of around 10 million inhabitants drawn from more than 200 different nationalities, the UAE has over 40 Christian churches (in addition to 76 other non-Muslim places of worship) for residents to practice their religion unimpeded. The Pope also participated in a conference on interreligious dialogue sponsored the Emirates-based Muslim Council of Elders, an initiative that promotes a moderate version of Islam.

"For me as a Christian, this is one of the most important days of my life", said Thomas Tijo - a 44-year-old from Kerala, India - who lives in the UAE and travelled by bus in the early hours to get to the stadium.

Out of the roughly nine million people living in the UAE, the Catholic Church estimates as many as one million are Catholic.

Among churchgoers in the UAE, excitement at the visit has been at fever-pitch, church leaders told CNN.

Yemen is the scene of what the United Nations calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis, triggered by the intervention of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and their allies in a war between the government and Huthi rebels.

The kingdom has also branded the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organisation, viewing it as a threat to the country's system of hereditary rule.

Francis added, "Those who attack or overpower others are not blessed, but rather those that uphold Jesus' way of acting, he who saved us, and who was meek even towards his accusers". Most are Filipino and Indian, and can face precarious labor conditions, which human rights groups regularly denounce.

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