Pope Francis Celebrates Mass in Abu Dhabi

Pope Francis celebrated Mass in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday as he closed a brief, but historic visit to the United Arab Emirates.

The Mass drew an estimated 135,000 crowd of people to Zayed Sports City stadium for what some people said was the largest show of public Christian worship on the Arabian Peninsula.

Before Mass, the leader of the world’s Catholics circled the stadium in his popemobile, waving to the crowd as it responded it cheers and chants of support.

On Monday, Pope Francis called for an end to wars in the Middle East, particularly conflicts in Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Libya, as he spoke at an interfaith meeting.

“Human fraternity requires of us, as representatives of the world’s religions, the duty to reject every nuance of approval from the word ‘war’. Let us return it to its miserable crudeness,” the pope said.

The UAE is a key part of a Saudi-led coalition that has been fighting in Yemen in support of the country’s president since 2015, but which has been criticized by rights groups for killing civilians with airstrikes.

​Pope Francis spoke alongside Sheik Ashamed el-Tayeb, the grand imam of Egypt’s Al-Azhar, the 1,000 year old seat of Sunni Islam. Also attending the “Human Fraternity Meeting” are Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist and Hindu faith leaders from around the world. 

It is the first-ever trip by a pope to the Arabian Peninsula.

The conference and the pope’s appearance are all part of the Emirates’ Year of Tolerance and its effort to show its openness to other faiths. 

“It’s something new for the Muslim world, that within the discussion of dialogue, they’re talking about interreligious dialogue across the board, beyond basic Christian-Muslim relations,” Marco Impagliazzo, president of the Sant’Egidio Community, a Rome-based Catholic organization told the Associated Press. 

Abu Dhabi’s crown prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan was among those who welcomed the pope to the presidential palace during a ceremony earlier Monday.

The Catholic Church believes there are as many as one million Catholics in the UAE. Most of them are from the Philippines and India and have left family behind to come for jobs in the Emirates where they can face precarious work conditions.