FILE PHOTO: Pope Francis leads the weekly general audience in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican November 21, 2018. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi/File Photo Image Credit: REUTERS

Dubai: Pope Francis will hold a Papal Mass on February 5 at Zayed Sports City, a landmark mass that is expected to draw hundreds of thousands of Catholics in the UAE during his first visit to the GCC.

The Vatican has released the official itinerary of Pope Francis’ visit, which includes a public homily of the Holy Father at 10.30am and a private meeting with the Muslim Council of Elders at the Shaikh Zayed Grand Mosque.

The official schedule, released on Wednesday, has been long awaited since the announcement of the pontiff’s three-day visit to the UAE a week ago.

Upon arrival on February 3, Pope Francis will be greeted by His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE’s Armed Forces, along with key UAE dignitaries at the Abu Dhabi Presidential airport.

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On February 4, Pope Francis will visit the Shaikh Zayed Grand Mosque to hold a private meeting with the Muslim Council of Elders.

Commenting on the itinerary, Bishop Paul Hinder, Apostolic Vicar of Southern Arabia (UAE, Oman and Yemen), said, “Pope Francis is convinced that every human being who stands honestly before God, no matter to whichever religion he or she belongs, and allows himself or herself to be led by God will work to create an atmosphere where human beings can live together and mutually accept each other.”

“The late Shaikh Zayed is known to have instilled the virtue of human coexistence in the people of the UAE and it is a happy coincidence that this historic meeting takes place at the Grand Mosque named after Shaikh Zayed whose policies have shaped the UAE into a country where the values of tolerance and coexistence are upheld so that all can live together in peace and harmony.”

Nearly a million Catholics live and work in the UAE and have the freedom to practise their faith alongside other religions.

“The Pope is a realist and knows that in a world of migration, human beings have to learn to live together, whether Christians among Muslims or Muslims among Christians and even both Muslims and Christians among non-believers among other big religions, we have to learn to coexist,” Bishop Hinder added.

“Gestures such as these, which are not made tactically, but specifically driven by the need to work for peace among human beings are so necessary today. Without such gestures and bold steps to create encounters, humanity risks what happened in history, where we speak with arms rather than words.”

“Such steps are elements, stones to build new relationships, a new house, a common home, where human beings have to work together to make the world a common home, where we can all live together in peace and harmony,” the Bishop said.

This resonates with ‘Laudato Si’, the second encyclical of Pope Francis and the subtitle of this is “On Care for Our Common Home”. In his phrasing in this letter he is “cautious and undogmatic, and he specifically calls for discussion and dialogue.”

Apostolic Journey of Pope Francis to the UAE (February 3 to 5, 2019)

Sunday, February 3,

Rome to Abu Dhabi

1pm Departure by plane from Rome / Fiumicino to Abu Dhabi

10pm Arrival at the Abu Dhabi Presidential Airport

Official Welcome

Monday, February 4

Abu Dhabi

12pm Welcome Ceremony at the main entrance of the Presidential Palace

12.20pm Official Visit to the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince in the Presidential Palace

5pm Private meeting with the members of the Muslim Council of Elders at Shaikh Zayed Grand Mosque

6.10pm Inter-religious Meeting at the Founder’s Memorial

Discourse of the Holy Father

Tuesday, February 5

Abu Dhabi to Rome

9.15am Visit in private to the Cathedral

10.30am Santa Messa in Zayed Sports City — Homily of the Holy Father

12.40pm Farewell Ceremony at the Abu Dhabi Presidential Airport

1pm Departure by plane to Rome

5pm Arrival at the Rome / Ciampino International Airport