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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 16 February 2019

Come rain or shine, St Mary's masses will flock to see the Pope

Hundreds queue up at Dubai church to secure tickets for Pope Francis' historic mass

It was the end of another long working day, yet hundreds of worshippers flocked to St Mary’s Catholic Church on Sunday evening in the hope of being part of a history-making papal visit.

Tired and weary they may have been, but the enthusiasm of the dedicated crowds burnt almost as bright as the candles that lit up the overcast skies in Dubai.

Families gathered to hear the mass of Father Arul Edward, held just hours before Pope Francis' arrival in the UAE for the start of a momentous three-day tour.

Many lit candles to remember loved ones, most said a silent prayer before queuing patiently for tickets for what promises to be a mass exodus of thousands of catholics from Dubai into the capital in the early hours of Tuesday.

Among their number was Bema Centino, 33, from the Philippines, who said she would be taking a bus on Monday night along with her husband John Ernest, 36, to the Mass at Zayed Sports City Stadium.

“I am super excited to see The Pope because it’s a once in a lifetime occasion,” she said.

“I am travelling down with my husband and my friends, it means so much to all of us.

“It will give us the chance to ask him to pray for us, he is a good and wise man.”

Ms Centino, who has lived in Dubai for six years, said that while the visit of The Pope was a special event in itself, there was something exceptional about Pope Francis himself.

“It does not matter to him if you are rich or poor and he doesn’t care about your nationality, he treats everyone as equals,” she said.

Rain and cloudy skies could greet the Pope when he addresses tens of thousands of people who will gather outside and inside the stadium on his first visit to the Gulf region.

But there is no prospect of gloomy weather dampening the spirits of those making the journey to Abu Dhabi.

Huge crowds descended on St Mary's Church on Sunday to pick up tickets for the Pope's historic Mass on Tuesday. Leslie Pableo for The National    
Huge crowds descended on St Mary's Church on Sunday to pick up tickets for the Pope's historic Mass on Tuesday. Leslie Pableo for The National    

Elrina Castillo, a housemaid from the Philippines, stood in a queue at St Mary’s Catholic Church before the ticket counter opened on Sunday for entry to the Mass and is determined to attend the event, come rain or shine.

“It does not matter if it is a sand storm or rain, that will not stop me,” she said.

“I will go to see the Pope speak. I took leave from work as soon as I heard that he was coming to the UAE. Rain or not, I will be there with my friends.”

Father Lennie Connully, the parish priest at St Mary's, said some 250 volunteers had been working tirelessly since Thursday to distribute tickets.

More than 40,000 tickets have been allocated to parishioners of the church, that is believed to be one of the largest in the world with 300,000 people attending hourly services during Christmas and Easter.

He urged people to get to the venue regardless of the weather.

“We are trying to accommodate as many as possible but there seems to be no end of people coming in to pick up their tickets. People should go to Abu Dhabi even if the climate is not okay and there is a possibility of rain,” he said.

“They must honour their tickets because the volunteers have taken so much trouble to distribute tickets and people have queued up for so long.”

Beatriz Lamanero, a graphic designer, believed bad weather was a test for the faithful.

“I cry at the thought of being able to see the Pope. We have tickets inside the stadium so we are very lucky. We are excited to be able to see him especially in the Middle East,” said Ms Lamanero, who plans to head into Abu Dhabi after midnight on Tuesday with her two teenage sons and drop off two younger daughters with relatives who live in the capital.

Worshippers can't wait to see The Pope during his first ever visit to the Gulf region. Leslie Pableo for The National
Worshippers can't wait to see The Pope during his first ever visit to the Gulf region. Leslie Pableo for The National

“The rain is just to teach us about our faith. This is a test. Any obstruction, any obstacle we will conquer. How can we not do such a small thing as face the rain to see the Pope?”

Harold Felicelda, a software engineer who works in Sharjah, asked a friend to collect his family’s tickets.

“My tickets have finally reached me. Over the weekend, some people waited for four hours in the queue. We are excited to hear what the Pope will say,” he said.

Mr Felicelda, his wife and daughters have tickets to the space outside the stadium but that does not disappoint him.

“It does not matter. I just want his blessing. Seeing the Pope will make us stronger. Rain or shine we will still go there. Whatever happens we are going to see the Pope. Plus it is a good sign for it to rain the day the Pope is landing in the UAE.”

Updated: February 4, 2019 11:05 AM

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