Pope Francis held an open-air Mass for 170,000 people in Abu Dhabi today on the final day of his historic visit to the United Arab Emirates.
The 82-year-old pontiff led the service at a sports venue this morning where huge crowds waved Vatican flags and banners and an altar with a huge cross was erected for the Mass.
The worship was the centrepiece of the first papal visit to the Arabian Peninsula, the birthplace of Islam, in a country where Christian worship is usually allowed only inside churches.
Inside the Zayed Sports City stadium, 50,000 Catholics with tickets to the Mass cheered the pope on, with one small group hoisting a pink poster which read ‘We the Catholics of Yemen love you!’.
Adoring fans: Pope Francis, centre, is surrounded by a sea of worshippers waving Vatican flags and taking pictures, as he is driven into the Zayed Sports City stadium in Abu Dhabi to hold a historic Mass for 170,000 Catholics in the UAE
Addressing the masses: Pope Francis, 82, waves to the 50,000 Catholics inside the Abu Dhabi sports stadium, while another 120,000 watch on video link, making it the largest ever display of Christian worship in the Muslim Gulf
Monumental: Tens of thousands of Catholics wait in the Abu Dhabi stadium for Pope Francis to arrive, many of them carrying the yellow and white flags of the Holy See
Service: Pope Francis stands at an altar in the Abu Dhabi stadium, underneath a giant cross erected for the occasion, as he leads the worship for tens of thousands of Catholics on the first papal visit to the Muslim Gulf
Another 120,000 were gathered outside, watching via video link on large screens, in what was believed to be the largest ever display of Christian worship in the region.
A choir sang hymns as the pope, joined by priests of different nationalities, began the service, broadcast live on Emirati television.
‘How beautiful it is for brothers to be joined under this sky,’ said a master of ceremonies in Arabic shortly after the pope’s arrival around 10:00 am (0600 GMT).
Unlike Saudi Arabia, which outlaws all non-Muslim places of worship, Abu Dhabi allows Christians among its large migrant workforce to practise their faith discreetly.
More than 85 percent of the UAE population are expatriates, and about one million Catholics live in the country, or about 10 per cent of the population.
Pope Francis’ trip has been warmly welcomed by Filipino and Indian Catholics among the UAE’s huge migrant workforce.
The UAE has eight Catholic churches, while Oman, Kuwait and Yemen each have four, Qatar and Bahrain have one each and ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia bans all non-Muslim places of worship.
Centre of attention: Pope Francis sits at the altar in the Zayed Sports City stadium flanked by two other Catholic clergymen
Believers: Four Christian worshippers dressed in white hold up white-and-yellow Vatican flags as they sit in the crowd
Flags: Christian Worshippers hold up the Vatican symbol, which incorporates the Keys of Heaven said to be given to St Peter
Celebrity: People crane their necks to take pictures of Pope Francis as he waves from his vehicle at the Abu Dhabi stadium
Filling up: Worshippers take their seats in Abu Dhabi with some wearing hats and another holding up a large blue umbrella
The man they came to see: People wave their Vatican flags at Pope Francis as the 82-year-old pontiff waves back
Crowds: A woman in the Zayed Sports City stadium waits for Pope Francis to arrive to deliver his historic Mass in Abu Dhabi
Symbol: A depiction of Jesus Christ on the cross stands in front of worshippers in the stands at the Abu Dhabi stadium
Service: Pope Francis, wearing his papal mitre, leads the service for 50,000 Catholics inside the stadium and more outside
Spectators: Thousands of worshippers pack into two tiers of the stadium while the Pope stands on the back of his vehicle
Historic trip: The official branding for Pope Francis’s three-day trip to the UAE is seen on a hoarding in front of worshippers
Wave: The Pope greets his admirers at the Abu Dhabi stadium in a car with the registration SCV, meaning Vatican City State
Tuesday’s service came a day after the pope called for an end to wars in the troubled Middle East, including in Yemen and Syria, at a meeting with a top sheikh and rabbi in the UAE.
All religious leaders had a ‘duty to reject every nuance of approval from the word war’, he told the interfaith meeting on Monday.
‘I am thinking in particular of Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Libya,’ he said.
As Francis arrived from Rome on Sunday human rights groups urged him to press UAE rulers about the war in Yemen.
The UAE has been Saudi Arabia’s main ally in the war in Yemen, where people are struggling for food and medicine in the depths of a humanitarian crisis.
Before heading to the Gulf on Sunday, Francis urged warring parties in Yemen to respect a truce agreement and allow deliveries of food aid.
‘The population is exhausted by the lengthy conflict and a great many children are suffering from hunger, but cannot access food depots,’ he said.
‘The cry of these children and their parents rises up to God.’
Holy service: Pope Francis holds a Mass next to another Catholic clergyman and a depiction of Jesus and his mother Mary
Parting the crowd: Security officers control the spectators as the Pope is driven into the Zayed Sports City stadium today
Ready for worship: Three of the estimated 170,000 Catholics arrive at the stadium to hear Pope Francis deliver Mass
Blessings: Pope Francis waves to the crowd (left) and touches the head of a young worshipper (right) as he arrives for Mass
Yellow and white: People hold up the two-coloured flag of the Vatican as they watch Pope Francis go by in his vehicle
Centre stage: Photographers take pictures of Pope Francis while worshippers wave flags and a volunteer watches on
Huge turnout: People sit in rows of white seats holding up the Vatican flag during the Pope’s historic Catholic service today
Selfie: Two worshippers take a picture of themselves in front of a logo for Pope Francis’s historic visit to the UAE this week
Poster: Worshippers hold up a sign welcoming Pope Francis and thanking UAE leaders on the last day of the pontiff’s visit
Meeting the people: Pope Francis puts his hand on a young boy’s hat as the child reaches out to touch the pontiff’s arm
Arrival: Thousands of Catholics wave flags and reach out their arms as Pope Francis is driven into the Abu Dhabi stadium
Man in white: Pope Francis smiles from his vehicle as security officers, drivers and a cameraman surround him at the stadium
Devotion: People wave Vatican flags as they sit on white seats in the Abu Dhabi sports stadium during the papal Mass today