Pope Francis on Tuesday celebrated a historic mass with tens of thousands of people in the United Arab Emirates, the second day of the first-ever papal visit to the Gulf region.
According to the local Catholic Church, around 120,000 people attended the mass in and around a stadium in the Emirati capital, Abu Dhabi.
“The crowds included Catholics from 100 nationalities and 4,000 Muslims,’’ organisers said.
The mass, the largest-ever public Christian religious gathering on the Arabian Peninsula, comes one day after the pope called for religious freedom.
The UAE is an Islamic country, with migrants, mainly from Asia, making up the majority of the population.
Report says the Vatican estimates that there are about 900,000 Catholics in the country.
While Christians are free to practice their religion in the UAE, it is not the case for other countries in the Gulf, mainly Saudi Arabia, where it is not permitted to build churches.
The pope also condemned violence committed in the name of religion, and urged religious leaders to condemn all forms of violence without hesitation.
Pope Francis, addressing religious leaders from different faiths on Monday, also urged for an end to war, injustice and inequality.
The Pope also visited the Great Mosque, accompanied by Ahmed al-Tayyeb, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, the world’s foremost Sunni Islamic university.
Pope Francis’ trip has been warmly welcomed by Filipino and Indian Catholics among the UAE’s huge migrant workforce.
Asian nationals make up some 65 percent of the population and are crucial to all sectors in the oil-rich Gulf state, from construction to services and hotels.
The son of Italian immigrants who was raised in Argentina, Jorge Bergoglio — or Pope Francis — has paid particular attention to migrants and refugees during his papacy.
Inside the stadium on Tuesday, 50,000 Catholics with tickets to the mass cheered the pope on, with one small group hoisting a pink posterboard which read: “We the Catholics of Yemen love you”.
Another 120,000 gathered outside, watching via video link on large screens.
Parishes across the UAE said 135,000 tickets to the pope’s mass were distributed to parishioners. Some 4,000 tickets had been given to Muslims to attend the mass, according to the local churches.
A choir sang hymns as the pope, joined by priests of different nationalities, began the service at around 10:30 (0630 GMT), broadcast live on Emirati television.
The UAE invited the pope to visit as part of its 2019 “Year of Tolerance” which has its own designated ministry. Tolerance Minister Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak greeted the crowd at the stadium.