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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 April 2019

Tens of thousands watch live screenings of Pope's Mass across the UAE

A day of wonder and high emotion at the nine Catholic churches in the Emirates

Pope Francis greets people during a visit to the St Joseph's Cathedral in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, February 5, 2019. Vatican Media/­Handout via REUTERS 
Pope Francis greets people during a visit to the St Joseph's Cathedral in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, February 5, 2019. Vatican Media/­Handout via REUTERS 

Tens of thousands of worshipers celebrated the Pope’s Mass via live screenings broadcast across the UAE on Tuesday.

Congregations from all nine of the Emirates’ Catholic churches who were unable to attend in person watched on in awe from their own parishes.

Special services to mark the pontiff’s pivotal stay were arranged in Dubai, Sharjah, Ras Al Khaimah, Abu Dhabi and Al Ain.

Enthralled onlookers disappointed not to have got tickets to the event in the capital nonetheless said they were still overjoyed by the magnitude of the occasion.

“Today proves that I was right to move to the UAE,” said Salvatore Gatto, 36, a computer engineer from Italy who was speaking after watching a live screening from St Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Dubai.

“People think there is no tolerance in this region but this shows they are wrong. I can practice my religion freely.”

As thousands gathered inside packed UAE churches and around large outdoor cinemas, another 150,000 headed to Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi.

There, Pope Francis held a hour-and-a-half-long Mass in front of an adoring crowd, with overwhelmed, often tearful followers waving Vatican flags as they prayed.

The event was the last and perhaps the most significant of the pontiff’s public appearances during his three-day visit to the Emirates.

It marked the closing stages of an historic trip, the first time a sitting Pope has travelled to the Gulf region.

“We always expect to see the Pope in the Vatican, certainly not here,” said Ms Guilfoyle, 62, from Ireland.

“But the UAE has embraced diversity and tolerance and has proven it throughout the years. It’s a very special and blessed day.”

With around one million Catholics living in the Emirates, it was inevitable large numbers would be unable to see the Pope in person.

Some chose to stay away deliberately due to young children, pregnancy or ill-health. But their enthusiasm for the occasion was no less diminished.

At St Michael’s Catholic Church in Sharjah, a staggering 5,000 worshipers crammed into the packed service, while more spilled out into corridors, stairwells, and areas outside.

And some 20 miles away at St Mary’s Catholic Church in Dubai, followers wept, prayed and clapped as images of Pope Francis were beamed onto big screens.

Inside St Michael’s Church in Sharjah during the live screening of the Mass. Picture: Salam Al Amir
Inside St Michael’s Church in Sharjah during the live screening of the Mass. Picture: Salam Al Amir

“It was a deeply personal experience even though I couldn’t physically be at the Mass,” said Joel Dcoutho, 38, an Indian sales manager who took time off from work to watch the service at St Mary’s with his four-year-old son Liam.

“I could not travel and stay up all night because I have epilepsy so I was disappointed at first.

“But I didn’t feel like I missed out. I’m filled with joy. It was amazing to hear the Pope say Mass in a Muslim country – a once in a lifetime experience.”

Father Reinhold Sahner, parish priest at St Francis of Assisi, said many of his congregation had chosen to spend the day with friends and family at his church rather than travel.

So the German-national took the decision to stage a free barbecue for parishioners after the Mass, with live music too.

Father Reinhold Sahner, parish priest at St Francis of Assisi Church in Dubai. Picture: Patrick Ryan
Father Reinhold Sahner, parish priest at St Francis of Assisi Church in Dubai. Picture: Patrick Ryan

“A lot of people, especially those with small children, told me that they wanted to stay,” he said.

“So I thought let’s make a day of it and celebrate and share the joy together. We have 25,000 people each weekend here so it’s only right to give something back.”

Father Stephen Lewis, 45, of St Michael’s in Sharjah, said he was even more excited than his parishioners.

He revealed he had only arrived to work at the church six months ago, and now faced an occasion as momentous as the arrival of the leader of the Catholic faith.

Mimicking the Pope’s message, he urged people of all religions to live a life of peace and mutual respect.

“It cannot be described; I’m just so excited and overwhelmed with joy,” he said. “The rulers of this country have warmly welcomed Pope Francis with a message of peace.”

Meanwhile, in Ras Al Khaimah, large numbers of worshipers flocked to watch a screening of the Abu Dhabi Mass at St Anthony of Padua Church.

Lijgeorge, 35, an Indian national, said he and his wife had chosen not to go to the Mass in person because they were expecting their second child.

“My wife’s in her first trimester and decided she couldn’t handle the journey,” he said.

“So we came here with our six-year-old daughter so we could all still be blessed on the same day.”

Updated: February 5, 2019 07:20 PM

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