ABU DHABI: The curtain fell on the historic visit of Pope Francis to the Arabian Peninsula at a Catholic mass in front of an estimated 180,000 worshippers in the UAE capital Abu Dhabi.
He reinforced the Christian themes of religious humility, understanding and peace. Sharing an altar with Christian and Muslim leaders, Francis delivered a 25-minute homily rich in Christian tradition.
Delivered in Italian followed by an Arabic translation from an assistant beside him on the outdoor altar, the pope assured the congregation that they were each blessed.
“Dear brothers and sisters, in the joy of meeting you, this is the word that I have come today to say to you: Blessed,” he said.
Much of the mass — which lasted one hour and 45 minutes — was in English, with key parts of the liturgy in traditional church Latin.
“You are a choir composed of numerous nations, languages and rites, a diversity that the holy spirit loves and wants to harmonize ever more, in order to make a symphony,” Francis said.
“This joyful polyphony of faith is a witness that you give everyone, and that builds up the church.”
He based his sermon on the Beatitudes, a series of eight blessings from the Bible that he used to underline the anti-materialistic message that he had highlighted in his speech on the first day of his visit.
“We see in them (the Beatitudes) an overturning of that popular thinking, according to which it is the rich and the powerful that are blessed,” the pope said.
“For Jesus, on the other hand, blessed are the poor, the meek, those who remain just even at the cost of appearing in a bad light, those who are persecuted … He was poor in respect of things, but wealthy in love. He healed so many lives, but did not spare his own.”
Francis had a message for the expatriate Catholics among the congregation: “It is certainly not easy for you to live far from home, missing the affection of your loved ones, and perhaps also uncertainty about the future. But the Lord is faithful and does not abandon His people.”
The mass was attended by Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al-Nahyan, the UAE’s minster of tolerance, and by the grand imam of Al-Azhar Mosque, Ahmed Al-Tayeb. Also present was Bishop Paul Hinder, head of the Catholic Church in southern Arabia.
To resounding cheers, Hinder thanked Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, who originally extended the invitation to the pope.
The bishop said: “We Christians try to implement the thought that St. Francis gave to his time, to his brothers, and to live spiritually among the Muslims, and not to engage in argument, but simply in the knowledge that we are Christians.”