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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 February 2019

Excitement builds at St Joseph’s Cathedral ahead of papal visit

Hundreds queue for hours outside Abu Dhabi cathedral for free Pope t-shirt - and hopes of a blessing

The countdown to the Pope's history-making visit to the UAE is nearly over - and thousands of excited worshippers want to say they've been there, and got the t-shirt.

Pope Francis' three-day tour in Abu Dhabi will be capped off with an huge open-air mass on Tuesday, attended by more than 130,000 people.

The visit is being viewed as a landmark moment in the UAE's history, with Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, saying it will "deepen the values of tolerance and understanding".

Supply will be outstripped by the massive demand to see the Pope's address at Zayed Sports City, but those who have missed out in the scramble for tickets are still determined to be part of a global event.

Most will have to settle for second best, either catching a glimpse of Pope Francis during his brief city tour, or picking up souvenirs as a lasting memento of the occasion.

Left, Julian Therese and her mother Alma Therese, along with friend Nicole stand in the queue to collect t-shirts, ahead of the Pope's historic visit.  Khushnum Bhandari for The National
Left, Julian Therese and her mother Alma Therese, along with friend Nicole stand in the queue to collect t-shirts, ahead of the Pope's historic visit.  Khushnum Bhandari for The National

Queues of people snaked around the grounds of St Joseph’s Cathedral off Al Karamah Street in Abu Dhabi on Saturday to collect a token to join another queue for a free commemorative t-shirt.

Many were leaving donations for the cathedral and nearby St Therese Church.

Julian Therese, 18, was waiting in line for three hours with her mother, Alma,

Worshippers queued for hours to get their hands on a free t-shirt marking the visit of Pope Francis to the UAE. Leslie Pableo for The National
Worshippers queued for hours to get their hands on a free t-shirt marking the visit of Pope Francis to the UAE. Leslie Pableo for The National

“I’m looking forward to praying and receiving his blessings,” said Julian, who lives in Abu Dhabi and is originally from the Philippines.

Her mother Alma echoed the sentiment and is looking forward to being part of history.

“There is a lot of interest from our community, it is history,” said Alma. “Seeing the Pope is one of the biggest things that can happen to us”

Boxes containing hundreds of t-shirts littered the parking lot, as workers frantically work around the clock to ensure the religious grounds of St Joseph’s are looking their best ahead of Pope Francis’ visit on Tuesday morning.

Buildings are being power-hosed, street markings are being retouched by painters and images of the Virgin Mary are polished to ensure everything is in place for the big day.

“It is very much a historical event for all of us Catholics living in the UAE,” said Francis Ramos, who has secured three tickets for Tuesday's public Mass.

Mr Ramos, a hotelier, is one of the lucky ones to secure a ticket to see Pope Francis speak to an expected crowd of 135,000.

“It is special as the visit is to a Muslim country," he said.

“The Pope is an icon, a leader of our Roman Catholic religion.

“I have had to make some sacrifices by taking time off work, but my wife and daughter will be there with me.

“I asked my boss for a day off, as I wanted to see him in person. When I got tickets, I was excited and happy.

“If I could speak with him or shake his hand I will be blown away.

“My daughter is just five, but I want her to be part of it so she can appreciate it when she is older.”

Worshippers at St Joseph's are eagerly awaiting the papal visit on Tuesday.  Khushnum Bhandari for The National
Worshippers at St Joseph's are eagerly awaiting the papal visit on Tuesday.  Khushnum Bhandari for The National

Tuesday will be a public holiday for private sector workers with event tickets.

Pope Francis will make a private visit to St Joseph’s Cathedral between 9.15am and 9.45am ahead of his Mass on Tuesday.

He will have just 15 minutes or so with a select few attending the event.

About 300 parishioners from all nine Churches in the UAE will be represented from all walks of life and social standing.

Among them will be families with disabled children and elderly that require care and cannot come regularly to church.

Updated: February 3, 2019 07:25 AM

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