Pope in UAE: A plea for harmony, peace and diversity
Pope Francis made an ardent plea for peace, harmony and diversity as he addressed a 180,000-strong crowd gathered for the papal mass in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday morning.
The pontiff, on his first-ever visit to the Arabian Peninsula, compared the diverse gathering at the Zayed Sports Stadium to a “harmonious choir composed of numerous nations, languages and rites”.
This is what “the Holy Spirit loves and wants to harmonise even more to make a symphony,” said the Pope as the faithful who represented UAE’s diverse pool of demography – Filipino, Indian, Nigerian, French, Lebanese, British and Sri Lankan to mention a few – listened in rapt attention.
The pope called on the faithful to emulate Jesus and his way of acting and living. For those who are armed and violent, he had a stern warning. “Those who attack or overpower others are not blessed, but rather those who uphold Jesus’ way of acting, he who saved us, and who was meek even towards his accusers.
“Meekness is important: If we live in the world according to the ways of God, we will become channels of his presence; otherwise, we will not bear fruit.”
The papal mass, considered to be the highest form of worship for Christians, turned out to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the people gathered at the stadium, as was evident from the sheer joy and excitement they shared.
Even hours before the mass started at 10.30am, the crowd was patiently seated at the packed stadium – nearly 45,000 inside and an estimated 90,000 outside.
The pope stood on a simple white altar set with a golden crucifix on the middle and a statue of Virgin Mary adorning the stage. Bishop Paul Hinder, Vicar Apostolic of the Arabian Peninsula, and other priests shared the stage as the ceremonial mass was conducted. Various leaders from Catholic churches read Bible verses in their mother tongue.
At the end of the mass before the Holy Communion, the pope delivered his sermon in Italian with Arabic translations given at regular intervals. Huge screens transmitting live images also ran English subtitles for the faithful.
“Dear brothers and sisters, I want to tell you that living out the beatitudes does not require dramatic gestures. Look at Jesus: He left nothing written, built nothing imposing. And when he told us how to live, he did not ask us to build great works or draw attention to ourselves with extraordinary gestures. He asked us to produce just one work of art, possible for everyone, our own life.
The beatitudes are thus a roadmap for our life: They do not require superhuman actions, but rather the imitation of Jesus in our everyday life.”
Pope Francis’s sermon also emphasised on simplicity, justice and fairness as he called upon the faithful to follow the beatitudes.
“They invite us to keep our hearts pure, to practise meekness and justice despite everything, to be merciful to all, to live affliction in union with God. This is the holiness of daily life, one that has no need of miracles or of extraordinary signs,” said the pope.
“I ask for you the grace to preserve peace, unity, to take care of each other, with that beautiful fraternity in which there are no first or second class Christians.
“May Jesus, who calls you blessed, give you the grace to go forward without becoming discouraged, abounding in love “to one another and to all”.
Reaching out and comforting the expat community, who live away from their homes, and “missing the affection of your loved ones”, the pope said, “the Lord is faithful and does not abandon his people”.
A sea of white hats in show of unity
Upon entering the Zayed Sports Stadium on Tuesday morning, it was hard not to miss the unity felt among the crowd. As people of different nationalities sat side-by-side, joined by faith, the image that first struck onlookers was a sea of white hats. Almost all sat within the stadium were clad in hats which bore the official Pope Francis and papal mass logo. Heartwarmingly, as the service went on and the sun shone down on the crowd inside, people were seen handing the hats around offering shade to those without hats.
Language no barrier for tolerance
During the final 30-minutes of the 90-minute papal mass, leaders of churches from around the UAE and the world took to the podium and spread messages of love, peace and tolerance in their mother tongues.
From the Philippines to Nigeria and beyond, it was a show which exemplified the UAE’s passion for diversity.