Thousands of Muslims Among Those Who Gathered in Unprecedented Church Gathering

Thousands of Muslims Among Those Who Gathered in Unprecedented Church Gathering PHILIP PULLELLA AND STANLEY CARVALHO/REUTERS Charisma Mag

Tens of thousands of Catholics and several thousand Muslims attended an unprecedented public celebration of Mass on Tuesday by Pope Francis, the first pontiff in history to visit the Arabian peninsula.

About 135,000 worshippers gathered in Zayed Sports City stadium in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, to see the pope, who is in the Gulf Arab country to promote inter-faith dialog.

“For me as a Christian, this is one of the most important days of my life,” said Thomas Tijo, a 44-year-old from India’s southern state of Kerala, who lives in the UAE and traveled by bus in the early hours to get to the stadium.

“We are a long way from home and this is like a comforting blanket. I will listen very carefully to what the pope says,” he said, holding his three-year-old son, Marcus, and remembering seeing Pope John Paul in Kerala in 1986 as a boy.

The UAE is home to about half of the 2 million expatriate Catholics living on the Arabian peninsula, home to the birthplace of Islam in neighboring Saudi Arabia.

Thousands of people cheering and waving Vatican flags lined the entrance to the stadium, with the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in the distance.

Catholics from about 100 nations were expected to attend the Mass, along with about 4,000 Muslims, including government officials, organizers said.

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, and to call for greater cooperation between Christians and Muslims.

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