Blog: Pope Francis concludes historic Papal Mass, leaves UAE

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Blog: Pope Francis concludes historic Papal Mass, leaves UAE

Abu Dhabi - Khaleej Times chronicles Pope Francis' historic trip to the UAE.

By Team KT

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Published: Tue 5 Feb 2019, 8:40 AM

Last updated: Tue 5 Feb 2019, 10:01 PM

Pope Francis landed in the United Arab Emirates on Sunday for the first-ever visit by a pontiff to the Arabian Peninsula - the birthplace of Islam.
The Pope touched down in Abu Dhabi for the 48-hour trip during which met leading Muslim clerics and held an open-air mass for some 135,000 Catholics.  

Tuesday, February 5

Khaleej Times journalists Allan Jacob, Anjana Sankar, Kelly Clarke, Abhishek Sengupta, Angel Tesorero, Juidin Bernarrd, Nilanjana Gupta, Ryan Lim and Michael Gomes brought you all the latest updates. 
Helen Henry came with a group of 14 that included his siblings, parents and relatives from Erbil in Iraq just to attend the historic mass. "It was exciting to see the Pope again," said the high school student who had the good fortune of seeing Pope Francis earlier in Poland in 2016.

Her cousin Manar Shad couldn't believe his eyes when he saw the Pope on stage. "It's just what we had come for. All the tiredness, the pains of covering this long journey was worth it in the end." For other veterans in the group it was however the chance of a lifetime that had to be taken. "Living in Iraq, this was our best chance to see the Pope because you never know when he would come next to this part of the world," added Usama.
Friends Kevin DSouza and Melvin DSouza and their families returned to their access hub in Al Nahda at 3pm, little over 13 hours after they had left their Dubai homes at 1am.
"But there was no tiredness at all. In fact when we saw the Pope arrive we felt a sudden gush of energy run through our bodies despite having five hours inside the stadium," said Melvin, 38, who works for a bank in Dubai.
"I felt goosebumps and tears rolled down my eyes when he entered the stadium. We felt so blessed. We could feel his grace just as he passed our seats around 20 feet away in his open top vehicle," added Kevin, who is also a banker.
Local sources indicate that Pope Francis has left the UAE after a farewell ceremony that took place with His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces.

Chukwudi Kingsley, 48, from Owerri, Nigeria and his daughter Mary, 12, watched the mass streamed live on giant screens at the St. Michael's Catholic Church in Sharjah.
They said it was just as real as it could be watching Pope Francis conduct the proceedings 200km away in Abu Dhabi.
"I wept. I couldn't hold back my tears because I felt so blessed. It didn't matter that I was watching on a giant screen," said Chukwudi who runs his own business in Ajman.
"I don't know how to explain. I am so happy," said an overwhelmed Mary, who goes to year 7 in Al-Alitqan American School in Sharjah. 
5-year-old Cyprien Flour, a French expatriate living in Dubai, may be too young to understand the significance of what happened to him this morning, but he was one of the few lucky people to be personally blessed by Pope Francis during the Papal mass in Dubai.
Speaking to Khaleej Times, his father Jean-Baptiste, said: "He probably wasn't aware of how important the moment was, because after it happened he said 'But daddy, I get blessed by the priest every Saturday'."
Talking about the moment it happened (at about 10.25am this morning), Jean-Baptiste said as Pope Francis drove by on his Pope-mobile, he called out "papa, papa".
"That's when he gave me eye contact, saw Cyprian and reached out to him. He really connected, such a special and humble moment."

12.04pm - The art of staying blessed
By Allan Jacob
'Art' and 'blessed' were the words that struck me during Pope Francis' sermon. I thought about it for while and realised it is about finding the extraordinary in our 'ordinary' lives.
When Francis said 'blessed', he was referring to life itself. We are called to be blessed. We are indeed 'blessed', and we are to take this inherent divine blessedness seriously if we are to find true happiness and harmony in our lives.
There should be no doubt about what makes us special - your life and mine. So stop being morose, stop moping about. How often do we consider our lives not worth the effort and see through the negativity that surrounds us?
Finding beauty amid the hardships we face is a tough task but those who can pull it off go on to lead fulfilled lives.
They become works of 'art' like Pope Francis said, for others to emulate. 'One work of art' is all it takes to find meaning and a higher calling. What is that piece of art we are missing?
Let's start with counting our blessings and making a difference to ourselves, our friends, families and larger communities.
We are precious and special, created for a purpose, like works of art, to appreciate and be appreciated and to spread the good word around. We are crafted by a higher power to be peacemakers and do-gooders.
The pope didn't struggle to get his message across at his mass on Tuesday. He simply reached out for the Bible to find inspiration and repeated what his master Christ said during the sermon on the mount 2,000 years ago.
Also known as the Beatitudes, it's a simple lesson for people who are fallible yet capable of doing great deeds.
'Blessed are the meek, blessed are the poor, blessed are those who strive for righteousness sake. Blessed are those who suffer persecution."
Still inspirational words from thousands of years ago and the pope brought it alive for a modern audience in his inimitable but graceful and humble style.
Life ain't easy, the pope reminded the faithful gathered at Zayed Sports City, but people are refined and fine-crafted when they pass through trials. It's normal to be accosted with troubles - the 'old normal'.
But meekness and humility make our life artful. If we hone it well, we will realise what it means to be truly blessed.
Pope Francis leads the stadium in prayer, as he recites 'Our Father'.
Pope Francis presides over the Holy Communion, blessing the body and blood of Christ.
Heads of churches from around the UAE and the world take the podium and deliver messages of hope, peace and tolerance in their mother tongue, to the 50,000-strong crowd in the stadium.
Pope Francis: Finally, I would like to consider for a moment two of the Beatitudes: First "Blessed are the meek" (MT 5:5).
Those who attack or overpower others are not blessed but rather those that uphold Jesus's way of acting. He who saved us, and who was meek even towards his accusers.
Pope Francis: "You are a choir composed of numerous nations, languages and rites; a diversity that the Holy Spirit loves and wants to harmonise even more to make a symphony."
Music is a huge part of the Papal mass. Hymns and compositions from the church organ act as interludes between readings.
Pope Francis: "Let us pray. God, may you grant mercy to members of the human race"
Crowd is seated.
Pope Francis reads: "Brothers and sisters let us acknowledge our sins."
He then leads the crowd in 'I Confess to You' prayer: "I confess to almighty god, and to you my brothers and sisters..."
At the prayer's end, he blesses crowd, which is followed by a hymn from the choir.
A master of ceremonies addressed the crowd before the mass began: "May the country of Zayed remain a home of peace and unity among all nations. Thank you your Holiness Pope Francis for your presence among us and thank you, UAE and all the exceptional people of this land.
"How beautiful it is that tolerance and love has met. It is a blessing and honour to welcome you, Pope Francis and thank you for being with us on this extraordinary day. How delightful to live together in this earth. 
"The words of the Late Sheikh Zayed still echo today: 'Our daily bread comes from god, our land comes from god, our grace comes from god, and may those who come here be blessed by god'."
The wait is finally over. Pope Francis is on his way to Zayed Sports City Stadium where thousands wait for his historic service. 
The crowd has come alive at the Zayed Sports City Stadium as thousands of flags wave in unison with cheers bellowing in the background.
The atmosphere is electricifying and everyone's mood is euphoric. People are up and about despite having only an hour or so of sleep as around 135,000 people of all ages from all over the UAE and neighboring countries trooped to the UAE capital for the first-ever papal Mass in the Arabian Peninsula.
Sheikh Nahyan Mabarak Al Nahyan, the UAE Minister of Tolerance, is among the crowd.
The stadium, with an estimated 40,000-seating capacity opened its doors before 5am. Entry to the stadium is orderly, made possible by hundreds of volunteers who came to the venue the night before.
Pope Francis is expected to arrive at the stadium aboard pope mobile to officiate the mass at 10.30am



Khaleej Times journalists gather at Media Gate of Zayed Sports City to attend papal mass. Around 700 journalists from around the world are expected to attend.
Khaleej Times reporters and photographers have arrived at the Zayed Sports Stadium, ahead of the Papal mass. In just over 2 hours time, more than 135,000 people will bear witness to the historic service, which marks the first visit to the Arabian Peninsula from a Pope.
Four Khaleej Times journalists are among 48 others en route to the Zayed Sports Stadium. The mood inside the bus, which bears the face of the late Sheikh Zayed, is calm and cheery, however things are expected to pick up once we reach the venue and mingle with the thousands of faithful already there.
The Papal mass begins at 10.30am.
7.36am, St Regis Hotel, Abu Dhabi
Roll call before we head to the mass at Zayed stadium and then on to the airport to board the special Etihad flight to Rome with the Pope.
Matteo keeps a close eye on his flock, never missing who is missing from the papal bunch of journos. 'Trapattoni,' he shouts. 'Si', I hear from a corner. 'I say, 'yeah' when I hear 'Yacoob Thompson', my surname. No one calls me that.
After two days, I was getting used to the roll call routine. This could be the last on this trip and I feel both a pang of relief and loss. I will be set loose to wander from the fold after 'Shepherd One' touches down later in the evening in Rome. Talk of lost sheep.

Monday, February 4

Pope Francis visits the Founder's Memorial

Did you know that the first week of February is observed as Inter-faith Harmony Week? The pope's visit to the UAE coincides with this week that is being observed by the United Nations.
The idea was put forth by King Abdullah of Jordan in 2010, a key figure who has tirelessly promoted peace between civilizations and religions, between the West and the East.
Pope Francis has taken this idea forward and has reached out to the Muslim world.
Francis has visited Palestine and Israel, Lebanon, Egypt and now the UAE. Next month, he travels to Morocco.
I am at the Founder's Memorial where an inter-religious meeting is to start in 30 minutes. The pope and the Grand Azhar will be the main speakers at the gathering of religious heads.

Forty years is a long time to cover the pope. Three pontiffs, in fact, but Valentina Alzaraki shows no signs of slowing down. She's been on 150 papal flights and says every journey is different. "I am a senior now, people think I know everything about these trips," she says.
Valentina says she still feels like a newbie despite being a walking encyclopedia on the papacy. Young journalists rush to her for assistance when in doubt and she has all the patience at his disposal to help them with papal protocol. What to wear, how to greet the Pope on these special flights informally known as 'Shepherd One'.
She's covered John Paul II, Benedict and now Francis, but she won't pick favourites. John Paul had charisma, Benedict was quiet while Francis is truly a people's pope, she says.
But the era matters, she says. The eighties and nineties was a period of great tumult. The Berlin Wall came down and the Iron Curtain had been lifted. Europe had broken the ideological shackles that once bound it.
These are exciting times for the papacy, she says. The world is changing, and the Vatican has a
progressive vision for harmony, to take people of all faiths together. The UAE is the best place to start for this new order, she says. I feel happy, and energised with so much happening. Who knows, I could be growing younger, she laughs.
His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, and His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, walked Pope Francis into the Presidential Palace, Abu Dhabi.   
The Vatican delegation was introduced to both the leaders. 
Upon his arrival at the Presidential Palace, Pope Francis, accompanied by cavalry on Arabian horses, was accorded an official reception. A 21-gun salute was fired in honour of the Pontiff, following which the Papal Anthem and that of the United Arab Emirates were played.
The Pope's motorcade has arrived at the Presidential Palace. Sheikh Mohamed, Sheikh Saif, Sheikh Mansour, Sheikh Abdullah and other members of the Abu Dhabi royal family will receive the Pope. 

Did I tell you I managed to get a power bank from a fellow journalist? Thanks to the power of networking, my phones are getting a boost and so is my confidence. I am walking and writing this blog. A nice breeze is blowing in from the coast. 20 minutes for the Pope to arrive and the mandatory red carpet has been rolled out for the pontiff.
I view this papal journey as more political and cultural in nature. I should, as a journalist, be able to see beyond the spiritual aspect. This is a personal outreach to the Middle East by the Vatican and it's bearing fruit in the UAE.

We are waiting for the big moment when Pope Francis will be officially welcomed by His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces. Photographers get the first shot, of course. Writers, like poor me, wait in line next. Another hour to go.  

After much persuasion, the Papal press director for the trip granted me access to the official welcome for Pope Francis at the Presidential Palace. Bless Matteo, the Papal official. I forget his surname. Sorry, I forgot to ask. My papal accreditation was limited to the Papal flight and the mass on Tuesday, hence this delay.
I realise my phone battery is running out of juice. Luckily, I have a spare phone on me, which will see me through work at least until noon.

Security will be tight, I am told, and I am wondering what the presidential guards would have to say about the two phones on me. I am worrying too much on this trip. Maybe I should pray.
Pompeo hails Pope's visit as 'historic moment for religious freedom'

The United Sates Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has expressed the United States' applause for the visit of His Holiness Pope Francis, Head of the Catholic Church, to the UAE, describing it as "historic moment for religious freedom".
Pompeo wrote in his Twitter handle today: The United States applauds @Pontifex arrival in UAE as an historic moment for religious freedom.
He added: The first Holy Mass by a Pope in the Arabian Peninsula promotes peace and understanding between two of the world's great religions.

Sunday, February 3

Alitalia flight AZ4000 carrying Pope Francis has landed in Abu Dhabi International Airport at 9:50pm on Sunday.
The Pope wants to listen, fellow journalists tell me. Chris Lamb of The Tablet says he loves journalists and the media. The Pope believes there is a greater calling in the media. He wants more, not less of people who question. I realise there is a greater responsibility as a journalist to go out into the world and spread the good word.
"I am about to leave for the United Arab Emirates. I am visiting that Country as a brother, in order to write a page of dialogue together, and to travel paths of peace together. Pray for me," tweeted the Pope shortly before the flight took off.
I am on the papal flight. All set for the historic journey.
His face was radiant. He held my hand and didn't let go. He held it a little longer than the others, I thought. It was the moment I'd been waiting for on this journey. I won't say my meeting with Pope Francis was spiritual, but it was deeply moving, satisfying, because I admire the work he is doing as a man of peace who speaks for the dispossessed, the desperate and the downtrodden. I want to be on their side, like him. "It is an honour, Your Holiness. Welcome to the UAE," I said. I was move by his grace and humility as he went round the aircraft, greeting, praying and hugging journalists, not as professionals, but as people, as humans who look for compassion and meaning in their lives. He blessed gifts, accepted some, prayed for families of media professionals, some of whom he knows by name.
Back to the present, I hear the call to board. The pope has been seated on the flight. I await the final call for the path-breaking apostolic journey. I will leave you here. Hope to catch up through text from the Papal flight.
Before I say ciao and board the papal flight to Abu Dhabi, let me give you some background on the papacy which is now flying into a new era as it arrives in the UAE tonight. According to historians, the papacy goes back to 1 AD. It is said that Peter, one of Jesus's disciples, was the first pope. Peter, in fact, died an even more gory death than his teacher. He was crucified upside down.
The band of journalists travelling with the pope are like a family. There's banter, lots of back-slapping and laughter. They are from all over the world, but they bond so well, and help each other out with translations and even pictures. You just have to be in the papal journalist pool, which I am now, to realise the advantages of cooperation over competition.
There is a buzz among the journalists working before the papal journey near Gate B 22 via which we board the papal flight. Cindy Gooden, a veteran journalist of papal flights, is a cheerful lady. I ask her on how many flights she has travelled with the pope. 48, she says and breaks into a laugh.
1.30pm, Fiumicino

I am at the airport waiting for the Pope's arrival. I get the feeling that I am early, and it's going to be a long wait but an interesting flight. This is considered a diplomatic journey and check in was smooth - it took all of five minutes.
Pope Francis is venerated in the Catholic world, and the chartered Alitalia flight will consist of his close aides and 70 journalists, I understand. I am running on my the third espresso of the day as we await news from the Papal team.


"The skies are clearing over Rome ahead of the Pope's visit to the UAE. I hate to admit it - I am nervous."
Can't put a finger on it, my state of mind, so I step out on the balcony of the rooftop restaurant post breakfast without my jacket on and take in the fresh air. A cappuccino in hand, and warm sips later, I feel better.
It's a Sunday, a holiday, and there are no fumes from traffic. People are heading to church, I guess, in this seat of Roman Catholicism.
Back to the trip. There's a unwritten dress code for journalists on the special aircraft to Abu Dhabi.
I tick all the boxes in my mind. Nothing flashy. Looks good. Is my suit dark enough?

Saturday, 8:45am

My suitcases are packed and I am ready to go home to the UAE with Pope Francis.
I slept fitfully, but it's okay. The consolation is that it's the best sleep I've had in four days.
Special tags provided by the Holy See have to be fixed to my suitcases and bag. I am making sure everything is in order, but my grogginess is getting the better of me early in the morning. 
My accreditation badge for the trip looks in order though I am not happy with the way I look in the photo.
The papal flight is at 1pm and I've been asked to be at the airport earlier than the usual 3 hours.
The flight with the pope is on a special Alitalia aircraft. I return with him on an Etihad flight. The tradition is to fly on Italy's national carrier and return by the host country's national carrier. That's what makes it a different experience for a commoner like me.
The pope does not have an aircraft at his command like the US President's Air Force 1, but those who follow his journeys tend to call his flight 'Shepherd One', perhaps alluding to his 1.3 billion Catholic flock across the world.

Alessandro Gisotti, director of the Holy See Press office, says the Vatican is impressed with preparations in the UAE. This really bodes well for the Year of Tolerance, he says. Media personnel are also briefed on the protocols and embargoes that have to be adhered to during the trip. Journalists can cover some events, while others are only for the leaders.

The rain is unrelenting. It has poured all day and it took me two hours to locate the office of the Holy See Press administration. The rain slowed me down in Vatican square. I stop for at the heart of the Vatican for the mandatory selfie, pictures and video. My fingers are beginning to freeze as I take pictures and video on my phone. Besides, I have to hold an umbrella. I kick myself for leaving the gloves at the hotel. I then collect the tickets and badges. At 2pm, we are summoned for another briefing on the Pope's schedule in Abu Dhabi.

The rain caught me by surprise. It was forecast but was still surprising because I didn't have an umbrella on me. My morning trek to the Vatican to collect my badge and complete other formalities had to be called off. A taxi ride on Rome's cobbled streets with an ill tempered driver spewing what I thought were profanities spoilt what should have been a solemn experience. Nevertheless, once in St Peter's Square, in the heart of ancient Rome, the feeling is uplifting.

Rome, the Eternal City as they call it can be both intimidating and exciting at first to a weary, sleep-deprived traveller, but I am listening to 'Take it Easy' by The Eagles on the way my hotel after arriving at Leonardo da Vinci Aiport in Fiumcino.
Luciano, my friendly driver, is a fan of the group, so am I. 
"I like good music....America, Chicago, and others," Luciano tells me as he whistles and hits the road on his way to ancient Rome. He keeps asking if I follow his Italian-accented English. I reply, 'yes',  and add that I appreciate his choice of classic pop numbers that he's literally playing for my listening pleasure. He's comfortable in his role as DJ and driver and says that it keeps him sane and happy when he clocks 13-hour shifts. 
The ride into the old city is uneventful, but the conversation lifts my mood after a 6-hour flight.  I am nodding off and I can feel it in my head. Luciano is a true Roman, he loves his city and its rich history and lives within sight of the Colosseum. "I can-a-see it from my flat," he tells me with pride. New Rome is boring, wait till you get inside the walls, he says. And there it is - the wall - but I am late with my eyes and a smartphone camera. I curse myself. 
But I get a good view of the Colosseum soon, and I am in awe. My mind is working again. Luciano takes a detour from his set route and drives towards the monument. "No problemo, you can't miss this," he says and stays close to the ancient ruins while I stare in wonder as we drive past the structure. 
"Forget sleep, I am visiting the place by foot for a closer admiration tonight," I pump up the history buff in me. We drive on and my chauffeur asks me if I am here on work or as a tourist. He asks too many questions, I think, but it's okay. My spirits are up and I am opening up. I explain I am travelling with Pope Francis to the UAE. He doesn't follow. I say, 'Papa'......
"Ah, Papa Francisco" he completes the rest of the sentence. It doesn't matter if he understands anymore as we arrive at the hotel. 
I make plans to visit the Colosseum with a journalist colleague later in the evening.
WhatsApp audio and video works in Rome, so it's easy to coordinate. He cabs it, but I decide to walk to the monument. Everyone walks in Rome, so I do as the Romans do. The weather is down to 12 degrees and there's a wind blowing which makes it colder. Besides, it's cloudy with a chance of rain, but the walk refreshes me and clears my head.
I ask passersby for directions - right-right-left-right - and there it is 15 minutes later (see pictures). 
It's a sight to behold. I just stand, looking, amazed how - what's left of the largest amphitheatre ever built - survived this long. Constructed during the reign of Emperor Vespasian between 72 A.D and 80 A.D, it was used to host bloody games and other entertainment like gladiator contests.
It has a brutal history - imagine being thrown to the lions and making a match of it. 
Viewing over, I head to the nearest pizza joint as the touristy Romans do. Why did I choose it? There's an oven fire burning, the smell of bread is enticing. It's warm, cosy and inviting. The dinner is divine and my night is complete.

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