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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 16 January 2019

'Everybody is excited': Roman Catholics in the UAE can't wait to see the Pope and attend public mass

Landmark Catholic mass celebrated by the Pontiff takes place on February 5

Pope Francis greets a child as he arrives to lead the general audience at the Paul VI Hall in the Vatican. Reuters
Pope Francis greets a child as he arrives to lead the general audience at the Paul VI Hall in the Vatican. Reuters

A historic public mass is to be held in Abu Dhabi to mark the landmark visit of Pope Francis to the UAE in February.

Details about the location are still being worked out, but Paul Hinder, Catholic bishop for southern Arabia, said it will take place on the morning of February 5.

“Arrangements are being put in place to make it possible for a maximum of our faithful to participate in this historic event,” said Mr Hinder.

News of the mass that will be celebrated by the Pope himself came as some of the one-million-strong Roman Catholic community living in the UAE spoke on Sunday of their excitement ahead of February's trip — the first by a Pontiff to the Arabian Peninsula.

"I missed Pope John Paul on both occasions he came to India," said Nelson Elias, 58. "So I will be very happy to see him in the UAE," said Mr Elias, who is from Kerala and has lived in the UAE for 31 years. "I plan to attend the public mass with my family and people from across the country will come too."

Ana Acosta was going to Sunday evening mass in Abu Dhabi. She, too, was looking forward to the visit.

"Everybody is so excited," said Ms Acosta, 47. "All my friends have been sending messages on Facebook since they first heard the news that the Pope was coming. It is big news," said Ms Acosta, who is from the Philippines and has been living in the UAE since 2001. "I want to attend the mass and Filipinos from Ras Al Khaimah to Fujairah will come for the event."

Pope Francis will participate in an interfaith meeting during the two-night visit from February 3 to 5, along with a number of other engagements. A website has already gone live where people will be able to find out more about the public mass once the details are released.

“A detailed programme of the very short and tightly-scheduled visit will be published before Christmas,” said Mr Hinder.

“The website will be the interface for all communications and queries for the mass.”

Indian resident, Shone Menachery, said his cousin was a priest, had met Pope Francis and now he too was excited at news of the visit.

"If I get the time to attend the mass, I will," said Mr Menachery, 28, who is from Kerala. "It is a very positive development and the leaders of the UAE are so supportive."

Filipina Isabel Monterero said she had only ever seen the Pope on TV but now hoped to see him in person next February.

"We love the Pope," said Ms Monterero, 46, who said she will try to get the day off work for the public mass. "It is very important that the Pope is coming. We need a spiritual element in our lives."

Roman Catholics have enjoyed the freedom to worship here since before the country was formed. Formal relations between the UAE and the Vatican were established in 2007, but contact stretches back decades.

St Joseph’s Catholic church opened on Abu Dhabi’s Corniche in 1965. The Ruler of Abu Dhabi at the time, Sheikh Shakhbut, attended the opening and an aerial photograph of the building shows it was then surrounded by nothing but sand. More Catholic churches opened in the years that followed.

The visit by Pope Francis is the culmination of years of work by pioneering priests, congregations and the tolerance of the leaders in the UAE.

Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, said the Pope is a symbol of peace and tolerance. "We look forward to a historic visit, through which we will seek dialogue on the peaceful coexistence among peoples," he said.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, said the visit would help build peace around the world.

The visit by the 81-year-old Pontiff comes a few days after his trip to Panama.

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Read more:

Pope Francis to make landmark visit to UAE

The Pope's visit: The story of the Roman Catholic Church in the UAE

Updated: January 3, 2019 04:57 PM

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