A multitude of devotees and even non-Catholics gathered at Zayed Sports City to attend a mass presided by Pope Francis on Tuesday morning.
In his homily, the pope preached the virtues of humility and how small gestures of kindness could make a huge difference.
Pope Francis, who arrived in the capital on Sunday evening, followed a hectic itinerary that included a visit with Abu Dhabi crown prince, Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, at the Presidential Palace and a private meeting with the members of the Muslim Council of Elders at Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque on Monday.
The pope also went to St Joseph Cathedral in Abu Dhabi before proceeding to Zayed Sports City for the highly-anticipated public mass.
The pontiff’s visit was part of the UAE’s efforts to promote friendship and interfaith dialogue among various religions in line with the country’s Year of Tolerance theme for 2019.
The significance of the moment was not lost on the Catholic faithful, who took time out from work just to see the pope in person and take part in the historic occasion.
“I was super excited to see the pope,” said a thrilled Leila Abes, who travelled from Dubai and waited patiently outside Zayed Sports City from 3am.
“Never did I imagine that he would come here to the Middle East. I’m really touched by the gestures shown by the UAE government to invite him here and give him a warm reception.”
Also travelling from Dubai, Fritzlyn Tabanda booked a hotel in Abu Dhabi for the night before to avoid the long commute.
“I feel blessed to be here in a country that is very open and accepting to different religions and nationalities,” said Fritzlyn, who took the free shuttle bus provided by the hotel to arrive at the venue before 5am.
“It’s my second time to see [Pope Francis]; I saw him in 2015 when I went to Rome for a holiday. But this is honestly more special because it’s here in the UAE and no one expected this moment to happen.”