Delivers historic mass for 180,000 Catholics in the UAE
ABU DHABI 6 February 2019: His Holiness Pope Francis, the Head of the Catholic Church and Sovereign of the Vatican City, delivered an historic Papal Mass to 180,000 Catholics in the United Arab Emirates that was televised around the world.
The scale of the event, which took place at Zayed Sports Stadium in Abu Dhabi, is unprecedented for an event of this kind in the Arabian Peninsula and saw tens of thousands of come from every corner of the UAE and overseas to participate.
The event saw 1,500 paramedics, police and security staff on duty to ensure the safety and security of the Catholics attending the mass.
There were 100 Emiratis on duty managing gate security for the thousands who flocked to the event – the majority of whom traveled on the 2,000 buses organized by the UAE Government in association with the Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia, the territorial jurisdiction of the Catholic Church covering the UAE, Oman and Yemen.
It captured world media attention with 250 international journalists among the 600 media who covered the Papal Mass and broadcast the event live around the world.
His Holiness arrived on his Popemobile to greet the excited crowds both inside and outside the Zayed Stadium where he communicated the 90-minute Mass.
Guests included the UAE Minister of Tolerance Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan and Noura Al Kaabi, Minister for Culture and Knowledge Development among others senior Government officials.
Thanked Children of Zayed
During his homily on a specially constructed stage within the stadium, Pope Francis thanked the UAE’s leadership and people saying “I would like to thank the children of Zayed in the land of Zayed” which received a rapturous welcome from the diverse multilateral audience.
Delivering a greeting at the end of the Mass, Pope Francis said, “Before concluding this celebration, which has been a source of great joy to me, I wish to extend my affectionate greeting to all of you who have participated; the Chaldean, Coptic, Greek-Catholic, Greek-Melchite, Latin, Maronite, Syro-Catholic, Syro-Malabar and the Syro-Malankar faithful.”
“I sincerely thank Bishop Hinder (Apostolic Vicar of Southern Arabia) for the preparations of this visit and for all his pastoral work. A warm thanks also to the Patriarchs, Major Archbishops and all the other Bishops present, to the priests, consecrated persons and to so many lay faithful who are deeply committed, with generosity and a spirit of service, to their communities and to the poorest.”
“May Our Most Blessed Mother Mary sustain you in your love of the Church and in your joyful witness to the Gospel. Please, do not forget to pray for me. Thank you!,” the Pontiff said in conclusion.
Reflecting what was one of the most diverse gathering of nationalities for a Papal Mass outside of Rome – elements of the 90-minute service were conducted in Italian, English, Arabic, Tagalog, Hindi and Korean.
The mass was attended by nearly 20 per cent of the estimated one million Catholics living and working in the UAE, said Wam.
Coming just days after the final of the Asian Cup, organizers worked day and night to transform the stadium and surroundings into the largest outdoor place of Christian worship ever seen in the Arabian Peninsula.
The sun shone over a 180,000 strong crowd, where the atmosphere was filled with excitement, joy, and belief in the humanity of the world.
The worshipers gathered at Sheikh Zayed Stadium, some lining up since 1 am to enter, preparing to see the Pontiff deliver the Holy Mass on UAE grounds.
Religious and cultural diversity is an integral part of the UAE’s civilisation and heritage, with archaeological excavations unearthing churches dating back to the 7th century AD.
First Catholic Church
The first Catholic church was established in 1965, six years before the formation of the UAE. Today, nearly one million Catholics reside here.
On this whirlwind trip, Pope Francis came, along with his fellow religious leader His Eminence Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, to send a message of peace, tolerance, and fraternity, not only for the region, but globally.
The Pope’s visit, following an invitation by His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, will draw attention to the global role of the UAE as an international leader in promoting religious coexistence.
In order to safeguard peace there is a need to enter together, as one family, into an ark which can sail the stormy seas of the world, “the ark of fraternity”, Pope Francis said in a speech delivered at the Founder’s Memorial.
The UAE and the Vatican have enjoyed diplomatic ties since 2007.
The symbolic location of the Mass – close to Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque – reinforces the philosophy of the UAE in its commitment to tolerance and ensuring that religious belief can flourish in a country that embraces religious diversity and encourages multiple faiths to co-exist side-by-side.
Holy Father, thank you for historic moment: Bishop Hinder
Following the Holy Mass,, Head of the Catholic Church, the Apostolic Vicar of Southern Arabia, Bishop Paul Hinder, delivered a word of thanks to the Pontiff before his final blessing, saying, “I thank your Holiness for your visit. It shows your pastoral care for this Church composed by migrants coming from around the whole world.”
Bishop Paul Hinder, who also heads Abu Dhabi’s St. Joseph’s Catholic Cathedral, added, “800 years ago, Saint Francis of Assisi met with Sultan Malik Al Kamil in Egypt. It was a meeting of mutual respect. In a similar way you have come to a Muslim country with the intention to do as Saint Francis did in the year 1219. We Christians try to implement the order Saint Francis gave at his time to his brothers and to ‘live spiritually among the Muslims… not to engage in arguments and (simply) to acknowledge that (we) are Christians’.”
The Vicar went on to thank the UAE authorities, especially His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, “who generously have made possible this visit and given us this space in order to have a public Mass with as many faithful as possible.”
He continued by thanking all the people from the church and all those living in the UAE who have worked hard to make this celebration possible.
“Finally, I wish to thank all those who have come to celebrate with us – Patriarchs, Cardinals, Bishops, Priests, Religious, Women and Men from near and far – not to forget those who followed us throughout the world on the screen,” he said.
“Holy Father, as we are coming to the end of a historic moment, I am asking you to give us your apostolic blessing. We wish you and your entourage a safe trip back to Rome,” he concluded.
Pope Francis departs Abu Dhabi
Pope Francis later departed the country following a three-day visit to Abu Dhabi. He was seen off at the Presidential Flight by His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, and a host of other UAE sheikhs, ministers and dignitaries.
Sheikh Mohamed praised His Holiness Pope Francis for his role in establishing the foundations of world peace, fraternity, tolerance and humanitarian dialogue. He also expressed his thanks and appreciation for his passionate participation in the various events and initiatives as part of the Global Conference of Human Fraternity.
The Abu Dhabi Crown Prince went on to laud the launch of the ‘Human Fraternity Declaration’ signed by the Pope and His Eminence Dr. Ahmad el-Tayeb, Grand Imam of Al Azhar Al Sharif, which seeks to build bridges of love, amity and coexistence among peoples. Sheikh Mohamed was presented with a copy of the Declaration from the Pope before his departure.
It is customary for the Pontiff to send telegrams to Heads of State of the countries over which the papal plane will be flying over as travels. In a message to President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Pope Francis said, “As I depart from the United Arab Emirates, I renew my deep appreciation to Your Highness, the government and the people of the UAE for your warm welcome and generous hospitality. I assure you of my prayers and invoke upon all of you abundant divine blessings.”
A number of sheikhs and officials were also at the airport to bid farewell to the Head of the Catholic Church, including: H.H. Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Ruler’s Representative in Al Dhafra Region, Dr. Amal Abdullah Al Qubaisi, Speaker of Federal National Council, H.H. Sheikh Hazza bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Chairman of Abu Dhabi Executive Council, H.H. Lt. General Sheikh Saif bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior, H.H. Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Presidential Affairs, H.H. Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation,H.H. Sheikh Hamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Chief of the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince’s Court, Sheikh Khalifa bin Tahnoun bin Mohammed Al Nahyan, Executive Director of the Martyrs Families’ Affairs Office of the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince, Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Tolerance, H.H. Sheikh Khalid bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Chairman of the Board of Zayed Higher Organisation for Humanitarian Care & Special Needs.
In-flight press conference
Pope Francis, during his return flight from his second Apostolic Visit to the UAE, on 3rd-5th February, said that his journey was a “big experience”.
While during his on-board press conference, he initially greeted the journalists and thanked them for accompanying him on the trip.
When asked about the outcome of the trip, and his impressions of the United Arab Emirates, the Head of the Catholic Church said, “I saw a modern country. I was impressed by the city, of its cleanliness.”
“Small curiosities how do they water the flowers in the desert?” he continued, adding that he saw a modern nation that welcomes many different people, and looks to the future.
The Pope said he was impressed by the future-focused objectives of the UAE, especially in education, adding that children are taught “to look to the future, always.”
He also said that he felt “a great welcome” during the reception at the Presidential Palace.
Being a man of the sciences, the Pope added that he was “touched” that the UAE is focusing on sustainable solutions for water security. “In the near future, they will try to make seawater drinkable they are doing the same with water from humidity,” he continued, adding that the country is “always looking into new things” for its future development.
The Pontiff went on to say that the country was open and not closed, and that the same applies to Islam, both “open to dialogue, to fraternity and peace.”
He emphasised the vocation of peace, adding that, despite conflicts in the region, he was moved by his meeting with the Muslim Council of Elders and the inter-religious meeting at the Founder’s Memorial, which signified a true openness to regional and universal dialogue.
Commenting on the Abu Dhabi Declaration for Human Fraternity, Pope Francis said that it was prepared through “a lot of reflection and prayer.”
“Both the Grand Imam and myself, we prayed a lot,” to be able to produce this document, he added.
Noting why the Human Fraternity Document came about now, the Pontiff explained, “There is only one great danger in this moment in time: Destruction, war, and hatred between us [as human beings], and if we, as believers, are not able to extend each other a hand, and hug each other, then our faith will be defeated.”
Faith of God
“This document,” he stressed, “is born out of the faith of God, who is the father to all, the father of peace,” condemning all destruction and terrorism.
When asked on Yemen, following his global appeal to assist the peace process during noon prayers on Sunday, the Pope said, “I know it is difficult to give an opinion in two days, and having spoken on the subject with a few people, I can say that I found goodwill for starting the peace process.”
Commenting on his critics, who feel that he may be partial to being “manipulated by Muslims”, Pope Francis noted, “Not only by Muslims! The accuse me of being manipulated by everyone, even by journalists. It goes with the work!”
“But I want to say one thing clearly,” he stressed, “from the Catholic Church’s point of view, the document doesn’t move one millimeter from the Second Vatican Council, which has also been quoted several times within the document.”
Fraternity Document Step Forward
The Holy Father told the press that some critics may see the signing of the document as a step backwards. However, he pointed out, “it’s a step forward.”
“The document itself, it’s more about unity, about friendship, this is what it underlines. But now that I also think about it, the document is condemnatory, it is condemnatory of violence,” he explained.
The Pontiff went on to recall an Iraqi Muslim man losing his Christian wife to the terrorism of Daesh, noting that it is stories like these that make the Abu Dhabi Declaration for Human Fraternity of vital importance. “This is why the document is strongly condemnatory in that sense.”
Approached about the Papal Mass, the Pope was asked about his reaction to the young girl that ran towards him during the popemobile’s rounds at Sheikh Zayed Stadium. “She was courageous I said no let her come that girl has a future I dare say: ‘poor husband!’.
At the end of the press conference, Pope Francis congratulated a journalist on board, Valentina Alazraki Crastich, for her 150th papal flight. The Pope then bid farewell to the journalists by asking them to pray for him.
Etihad flies His Holiness home
Etihad Airways, the national airline of the UAE, has flown His Holiness Pope Francis home after a historic three-day visit to the capital Abu Dhabi. The trip, heralded as a triumph in inter-faith dialogue and a celebration of peace, made world history as the first ever visit of a pontiff to the Gulf region.
Leaving on an Etihad Airways Boeing 787 Dreamliner, the Pope leaves behind a legacy of tolerance and peace. During his visit, the pontiff joined Dr Ahmed Al Tayeb, Grand Imam of Al Azhar and Chairman of the Muslim Council of Elders for the Human Fraternity conference, a meeting of some of the world’s most prominent religious leaders with the aim of charting a path for global peace.
In recognition of the UAE’s Year of Tolerance, the visit reaffirms Abu Dhabi’s position as a multi-cultural, multi-faith global capital. Etihad Aviation Group, one of the city’s leading employers, echoes this diversity with more than 150 nationalities represented across its 23,000-strong workforce. The Pope’s visit is the perfect opportunity to celebrate the diversity and spirit of co-operation witnessed throughout the company.
The crew who flew the Pope home were comprised of 15 different nationalities, representing the cultural diversity at the heart of the Etihad Aviation Group.
Captain Abdulla Obaid, an Emirati pilot with more than 20 years of flying experience led the flight crew. He said: “I am very proud and thankful to have flown His Holiness Pope Francis to Rome and to be the first Emirati pilot ever to fly the Pope. Our country’s leadership are directing us in the way of tolerance and making this country a peaceful country where people of all cultures can come together.”
Captain Christoph Schippel from Germany joined Captain Abdulla on the flight deck, bringing more than 30 years of flying experience to the operation.
In addition, Captain Paolo La Cava, Director of Etihad Aviation Training, the group’s acclaimed training division has been instrumental in the operation and planning of this important flight. Captain Paolo said: “I am very privileged to have been part of the crew flying His Holiness Pope Francis back home to Italy. I am lucky enough to have flown Pope Francis a number of times in my aviation career and it is a great honour to have done this again for Etihad. It was amazing to have Pope Francis here in the UAE and Etihad Airways is a good representation of this country’s tolerance and diversity.”
The flight crew completed an extensive preparation process for the special flight, including several operational planning meetings and team briefing sessions as well as bespoke simulator training sessions.
The aircraft door was specially adorned with the Vatican’s emblem and special headrests, emblazoned with the Vatican insignia were installed on the aircraft in preparation for the flight.
During his visit, the pontiff performed mass for a congregation of approximately 130,000 people at Zayed Sports City stadium. The service was broadcast live across the inflight entertainment systems of Etihad’s fleet as the aircraft transported guests across the globe on Tuesday. The airline’s lounges also broadcast the Pope’s historical ceremony.