Pope Francis holds historic public mass in UAE

Pope Francis arrives in Abu Dhabi for historic Gulf visit, after condemning Yemen war

Francis, who has made outreach to Muslim communities a cornerstone of his papacy, is wrapping up an historic three-day visit to the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday.

Francis' other main initiative in Abu Dhabi is a giant mass on Tuesday in the city's main sports arena that is expected to draw around 135,000 people in what some have called the largest show of public Christian worship on the Arabian Peninsula.

The Pope, who arrived on Sunday at the invitation of Abu Dhabi's crown prince, has used the visit to condemn regional wars, including that in Yemen, the poorest country in the Peninsula, where the U.A.E.is involved as part of a Saudi-led military coalition.

On Monday, the pope held talks in Abu Dhabi with Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb - imam of Cairo's Al-Azhar, Sunni Islam's prestigious seat of learning.

It included groups that have not been designated as terrorist groups by either the U.S. or Europe, such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim advocacy and civil rights group in the United States, as well as Islamic Relief Worldwide, a UK-based humanitarian aid organisation with operations around the world. "It is a document that invites all persons who have faith in God and faith in human fraternity to unite and work together so that it may serve as a guide for future generations to advance a culture of mutual respect in the awareness of the great divine grace that makes all human beings brothers and sisters".

Francis added that he was struck in particular by the wisdom of the Muslim elders with whom he met and the wide diversity of people who live in the Emirates.

And already he has begun to sow new seeds of hope in this country, where "sand and skyscrapers meet" -he said in his first speech on Arabian soil - "a place of development, where once inhospitable spaces supply jobs for people of various nations", calling gently for more rights for his people and reminding everyone to look after each other in the one human family, according to the will of God.

Pope Francis also addressed an interfaith meeting attended by Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb and UAE leaders, where he pushed for an end to the wars in East Asia, including in Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Libya.

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Most of the UAE's population is Muslim, but the country contains about 1.2 million Christians, most of which are expatriates from India and the Philippines.

"We have to say it is really a big event for us which we never expected", said Sumitha Pinto, an Indian native who has lived in the UAE for almost 20 years.

"I am greatly inspired by the powerful faith and determination of Christians in the UAE who have established a remarkable 700 Christian churches and ministries throughout the country", Perkins said in a statement.

Bahrain and Qatar are home to one Catholic church each while Oman, Kuwait and Yemen each have four and the UAE has eight Catholic churches.

Pope Francis said he appreciates "the opportunity to come here as a believer for peace".

The head of Catholic Church and the sovereign of the Vatican, was accorded a state welcome to the UAE at a grand ceremony organized at the Presidential Palace in Abu Dhabi on Monday.

The UAE supports Saudi Arabia's war in Yemen, which has caused the world's worst humanitarian crisis. Human rights groups have long denounced violations of basic human rights and labor standards among the Emirates' foreign work force.

The UAE has pushed itself as an open society in a conservative region.

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