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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 February 2019

A fresh lick of paint and last minute buzz at the Abu Dhabi church that will host the Pope

Some of the faithful are still searching for tickets, hoping to catch a glimpse of the pontiff in person

The church is being spruced up ahead of the Pope's visit there on Tuesday morning. Khushnum Bhandari for The National
The church is being spruced up ahead of the Pope's visit there on Tuesday morning. Khushnum Bhandari for The National

Queen Elizabeth II, so the saying goes, thinks the world smells of fresh paint, such are the efforts put into preparing the venues she is due to visit.

The same could be said for Pope Francis, if scenes yesterday were anything to go by.

At St Joseph’s Cathedral, where he will make a private visit on Tuesday before delivering Mass, workers were out applying a fresh coat of paint to gates despite a heavy downpour, having just repainted exterior walls.

Another new feature at the cathedral were several signs which had recently been put up on doors and windows. ‘Sorry… no more tickets available for the Papal Mass,’ they announced, in bright red capital letters.

Still, hopeful members of the faithful turned up, some following tips on where to find one of the last remaining tickets which were being shared on social media.

Sherry Rae Sabado, 31, who has been in Abu Dhabi for five years, stood under cover from the rain with her friend Jennifer Catli, 35. Both are originally from the Philippines but had not found tickets.

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates - Preparation takes place ahead of the PopeÕs visit at St. JosephÕs Cathedral on February 2, 2019. Khushnum Bhandari for The National
Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates - Preparation takes place ahead of the PopeÕs visit at St. JosephÕs Cathedral on February 2, 2019. Khushnum Bhandari for The National

“This was the first day we could have come due to work commitments,” Ms Sabado said. “We had registered, but they have said there are no tickets left. We are just still hoping and praying.

“We know he will be here so we want to see him in person, and it’s hard for us to get to the Vatican.”

Others around the cathedral’s courtyard had been more fortunate.

“We are all excited,” said Marlon Rosales, 30, a Filipino who had secured a ticket.

“This is a dream for Christian people. The fact he is coming here, to a Muslim nation, makes it more special.”

Elsewhere, there were also signs of Pope Francis’s impending arrival. At Zayed Sports City Stadium, which just days earlier hosted the final of the Asian Cup, workers were busily taking down the football livery and replacing it with the branding for Pope Francis’s visit.

St Joseph’s is the seat of the Apostolic Vicar of Southern Arabia, which includes the UAE, Yemen and Oman, headed by Bishop Paul Hinder.

It was the first Catholic church to open in what is now the UAE on the Corniche in 1965. Sheikh Shakhbut, then Ruler of Abu Dhabi, was donated the land for it and was present at the inauguration.

A sign at St Joseph's Church in Abu Dhabi. Daniel Sanderson / The National 
A sign at St Joseph's Church in Abu Dhabi. Daniel Sanderson / The National

The church moved to Al Mushrif in 1983 to land donated by Sheikh Zayed, where it stands today. It is host to an impressive 80,000 to 90,000 parishioners and performs services in Malayalam from India’s Kerala, Tagalog from the Philippines, Urdu, French, German and even Korean.

According to Gandolf Wild, secretary to Bishop Paul Hinder, Apostolic Vicar of Southern Arabia, Pope Francis will make a private visit between 9.15am and 9.45am on Tuesday, February 5.

He will have 15 minutes to spend with around 300 parishioners from “all walks of life and social standing” who have been specially selected to pray with and be blessed by him.

Among them are families with disabled children, elderly worshippers who require care and cannot come to weekly Mass and some lesser privileged migrant workers.

“Pope Francis is often spontaneous and does things unexpectedly, he may personally greet anyone present there who catches his attention,” the statement said.

Updated: February 3, 2019 08:57 PM

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