Pope Francis giving his blessing to newlywed Dubai expats Jonathan Eric and Kristine Tara Defante in 2017. The couple were selected for the Sposi Novelli custom at the Vatican. Image Credit: Jonathan Eric Defante

Dubai: Catholic faithfuls in the UAE are busy making plans for the highly anticipated Papal Mass next month — some have applied for leave in advance and booked rooms in hotels near the venue, while there are those who will fly in to Dubai from India.

Pope Francis will be visiting the UAE from February 3 to 5, his first visit to the GCC. During the visit, he will celebrate a landmark mass with at the Zayed Sports City on February 5.

Around 120,000 free tickets will be given to parishioners across the UAE later this month to attend the live mass.

I’ll be on leave because this is a great opportunity to see him even from a distance. I saw Pope John Paul II twice in 1981 and 1995 in the Philippines. This will be my first time to see Pope Francis. My wife and I are excited to hear him say mass on February 5.

- Arthur Los Banos | Filipino PR professional

Details of who will get tickets have yet to be revealed but some hopefuls have already made plans, regardless of whether they’ll get tickets or not.

Jonathan Eric Defante, 30, a franchise coordinator in Dubai, said he has booked rooms for his family in a hotel 12 minutes away from the stadium.

“We don’t know yet if we will get a ticket but we’ve already booked hotel rooms for the nine of us — me, my wife and kid, plus my in-laws,” Defante told Gulf News. Defante is hopeful of getting at least two tickets to give his parents-in-law as a gift since he has already seen the pontiff up-close three times. He said his last encounter with Pope Francis was the most special.

“In 2017, we took a chance to get the Pope’s blessing in person as newly-weds. It’s a custom called Sposi Novelli. We were blessed to have been selected. On the day, he approached all the couples and I made sure to practise my Spanish and said to him, ‘We’re praying or you. We love you,’ in Spanish. To which he replied in English, ‘Where are you from?’ We said we’re from Dubai and he seemed surprised,” Defante said.

“He has a peaceful and very light aura, which puts you at ease. It’s like meeting your grandfather. He held our hands, prayed for us, and said, ‘Pray for me like you always do’.”

Filipino expatriate Arthur Los Banos, a PR professional who serves at St Francis Church in Jebel Ali, is also optimistic about getting a ticket for him and his wife for the mass.

“I’ll be on leave because this is a great opportunity to see him even from a distance. I saw Pope John Paul 2 twice in 1981 and 1995 in the Philippines. This will be my first time to see Pope Francis. My wife and I are excited to hear him say mass on February 5,” Los Banos said.

“Pope Francis is the pope of the masses. His preachings are socially relevant and his messages of forgiveness are very encouraging.”

The same goes for British expat Sarah Cox who serves at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Dubai.

“[If I get tickets], I will attend with my husband who is also a parishioner. We might try and book a room if there are any available,” Cox said, adding she has registered with the parish as instructed.

Indian expatriate Arundhan Alphones, who also attends St Francis Church in Jebel Ali, said: “My wife and I intend to attend the High Mass and this will be our first occasion for receiving God’s blessing in 23 years of our relationship. Though my wife is in India, she has already planned to travel to Dubai to receive the blessing of the Pope.”

Filipina expatriate Aileen Salvana, an accountant, said she filed her leave as early as December and got her employer’s approval immediately.

“If we don’t get tickets, we still plan to go to Abu Dhabi and take our chances. Maybe we can stand somewhere near the stadium so that just in case there’s a motorcade like in other countries, we can catch a glimpse of the Pope. We have already made plans of travelling to the Vatican to see him. But since he’s already coming to the UAE, we might as well take advantage of it.”

Mass tickets: When and where to register

■ Deadline for registration for St Mary’s Catholic Church — January 15

■ Where to register: https://www.saintmarysdubai.org/online-profile

■ Deadline for registration for St Francis Church — Jebel Ali: January 20

Where to register: https://stfrancisjebelali.ae/register-online

■ Deadline for non-GCC residents: January 21

Where to register: https://uaepapalvisit.org/non-gcc

■ Bar-coded tickets may be claimed from St Joseph’s Cathedral Abu Dhabi or St Mary’s Church Dubai from January 28 to February 4 before 5pm.

■ Documents requirement: Valid Passport with no GCC Resident Visa.

■ The registration process is similar for almost all the churches:

Follow the below steps:

■ Step one: Register as a parishioner

■ Step two: Obtain Parishioner Registration ID Number.

■ Step three: Wait for updates on ticketing process through Church announcements and website.

■ For more details, contact the UAE Papal visit call centre on 04-317 9333