Pope Francis holds open-air Mass in Abu Dhabi - thousands attend

Pope Francis who is traveling to the Arabian Peninsula on Sunday delivers a speech at the Vatican on Jan. 30 2019. 

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.

Francis has become the first pope in history to visit the Arabian peninsula, the birthplace of Islam and home to the Muslim holy sites of Mecca and Medina.

For the Gulf Arab region where public displays of non-Islamic faith are restricted, the hymns of "Halleluja" booming out from speakers marked a milestone and evidence of the Emirates' much touted assertions of its tolerance for other faiths.

A worshiper carries the Palestinian flag during mass, led by Pope Francis, for an estimated 170,000 Catholics at the Zayed Sports City Stadium on February 5, 2019.

Pope Francis will spend three days in Abu Dhabi, the UAE's capital, where he will attend an interreligious conference with Jewish and Christian leaders.

Vatican officials have said it is not clear whether Pope Francis will address the sensitive subject in public or private during his visit to Abu Dhabi, which is aimed at promoting interfaith dialogue. "They wanted to make me feel that I was welcome".

The Catholic Church believes there are as many as one million Catholics in the UAE.

Many of the Catholics in Abu Dhabi are guest workers from Africa, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and the Philippines, though some are local Arabs. They can face precarious labor conditions, which human rights groups regularly denounce.

The Filipino Times newspaper reported that the Mass saw a 120-member choir, composed mostly of Filipinos, with Filipina conductress Joy Santos spearheading the multi-cultural voices who sang hymns in English, Arabic, and Latin.

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".

"This is a message of peace for all the world".

"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. He asked us to produce just one work of art, possible for everyone: "our own life".

"He is nearly divine".

"The UAE has been, and will continue to be, a beacon of tolerance, moderation and coexistence". "His simplicity and humility is always praise worthy".

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

The pontiff held talks in Abu Dhabi with Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, who is the imam of Cairo's Al-Azhar - Sunni Islam's prestigious seat of learning.

The pope also condemned violence committed in the name of religion, and urged religious leaders to condemn all forms of violence without hesitation.

They are grateful to the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi for having invited him, and they are grateful to Pope Francis for having come all this way, affirming them and loving them for who they are.

These were Christians from the peripheries, in other words, people whom Francis has made it his pontificate's mission to embrace.

Pope Francis in turn gave the crown prince a framed medallion of the meeting between St. Francis Assisi the pope's namesake and the Sultan of Egypt Malek al-Kamel, in 1219. Since then, religious fanaticism and faith-inspired wars have only grown around the globe.

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