Pope Francis celebrates historic 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 his first public interaction with the Muslim, Christian and catholic religous leaders in UAE on Monday, Pope took a dig at Donald Trump by warning against the "building of walls" in reference to the Mexico wall which the US President has pledged to raise.

Pope Francis' historic visit to Abu Dhabi is a significant step toward breaking the barriers of extremism and is in line with the country's message of promoting co-existence and tolerance, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Anwar Gargash, said on Monday.

Coming just days after the final of the Asian Cup, organisers worked day and night to transform the stadium and surroundings into the largest outdoor place of Christian worship ever seen in the Arabian Peninsula.

"We have to say it is really a big event for us which we never expected", said Sumitha Pinto, an Indian native who has lived in the UAE for almost 20 years.

A British native, Hellyer also discusses his participation in a significant archaeological discovery in 1992: that of a 7th century Christian monastery on Sir Bani Yas Island near Abu Dhabi.

Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb had also hosted Pope Francis in 2017 to improve relations between Catholics and Muslims.

Pope Francis has held the first Papal Mass at a stadium in Abu Dhabi, the first time the pontiff visited the Arabian Peninsula.

Francis arrived at the Abu Dhabi presidential palace in a simple Kia hatchback, but was greeted with an artillery salute and military flyover by a country now at war.

Christian worshipers attend a mass led by Pope Francis at the Zayed Sports City Stadium
Christian worshipers attend a mass led by Pope Francis at the Zayed Sports City Stadium

"Despite its assertions about tolerance, the UAE government has demonstrated no real interest in improving its human rights record", Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said.

"We are calling on Pope Francis to raise the issue of their incarceration with his hosts, and urge their immediate and unconditional release", Amnesty International said in a statement.

Pope Francis' visit to the UAE has once again brought into focus his simple lifestyle.

The mass was delivered in Italian and translated into Arabic with English subtitles on giant screens.

Pope Francis is welcomed by Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, upon his arrival at the Abu Dhabi airport, United Arab Emirates, Sunday, Feb. 3, 2019.

The pope waved at an enthusiastic crowd carrying Vatican flags and banners as he drove into Zayed Sports City Stadium, where an altar with a large cross was set up for the open-air service in a country that borders the birthplace of Islam.

The document, which was signed at a gathering of religious leaders from Christianity, Islam, Judaism and other faiths, pledges peace, freedom and women's rights.

Muslims make up almost four fifths of the UAE's population, but the country is also home to almost a million Catholics, according to the Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia.

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