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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 15 February 2019

A night of patience as thousands travel to Abu Dhabi for Pope Francis's Mass

Authorities and volunteers marshal the safe transfer of more than 18,000 worshippers in just a few hours

Latest: Live coverage from Pope Francis's Mass at Zayed Sports City Stadium

If you are just getting up, or maybe you are about to go to bed, either way it has been quite a night in Dubai as tens of thousands of Catholics made their way to Abu Dhabi.

The exodus from Dubai of many worshippers hoping to catch Pope Francis's Mass at Sheikh Zayed Sports City Stadium on Tuesday morning began just after 10pm.

Five hours later and hundreds were still queuing for free yellow school buses that had been put on to transport people safely to the capital in time for what promises to be a historic moment in the UAE.

Like many of her Filipino compatriots, who made up the majority of the travelling masses, Maizel Joi was overwhelmed with anticipation.

“We are all so excited,” she said as she queued at Safa Park with three of her colleagues from the Four Points Sheraton Hotel.

“It has been a long day, but totally worth it,” said her friend and colleague, Jeffrey Agunos, who was hoping to catch a glimpse of Pope Francis from outside the stadium.

An operation performed with military efficiency played out from six separate collection points across the city, with the largest at Safa Park launching 400 buses in the space of just a few hours.

One of the transport co-ordinators, Brazilian Felipe Ribeiro had not seen anything quite like the mass movement of people witnessed overnight in the UAE’s second city.

“I’ve worked on the World Cup, Olympics, Grand Prix and concerts - but I’ve not seen anything like this before,” he said.

His company Arga has worked closely with the police and Roads and Transport Authority to ensure everything went to plan.

The only hiccup along the way was a shortage of restrooms at Safa Park, Medcare Hospital stepped in to help, opening its doors to allow worshippers access to its facilities.

Many of those travelling to Abu Dhabi to attend Mass were from St Mary’s Catholic Church in Bur Dubai.

The church provided volunteers to help out with the operation, like Alwyn Stephen, who has been in the UAE for 33 years.

“What has amazed me is how calm and patient everyone has been,” he said.

“A few people arrived without tickets and we have managed to accommodate most requests to ensure they can get to and from Abu Dhabi.

“To see this amount of people travelling all at once for just a few hours is quite something.”

In Abu Dhabi, wrapped in hoodies and scarfs, thousands walked through the streets from bus drop-off points to the stadium.

"We stayed at a hotel on Yas so we left at 4am," said Arrti Coelhi, who travelled from Dubai on Monday and was walking with her singing children past Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque about 5am.

"I think they just sort of feel it [the sense of occasion]," she said of her three children, walking hand in hand.

"We've tried to tell them about the Pope."

Updated: February 5, 2019 08:24 AM

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