Dubai: A week before Pope Francis' visit to Abu Dhabi, there's a great anticipation among Catholics here as preparations get underway.
The pontiff’s visit to the UAE capital, a landmark for inter-faith relations between Muslims and Christians, is set to draw thousands from both near and far.
Tickets are given for free. But due to slots "limited" to 120,000, seats for the open-air mass which the Pope will celebrate at Zayed Sports City in Abu Dhabi, are now being raffled off at different parishes across the Gulf region.
The Pope’s visit marks the first by a head of the Catholic Church to the UAE.
Some 120,000 Catholics will be given the opportunity to attend the Holy High Mass by the Pope Francis while others will get a chance to watch it live-streamed in all Catholic Churches.
As a papal motorcade is unlikely, tickets for the pontiff’s sole public appearance at Zayed Sports City is in extremely high demand. Capacity of the Zayed Sports City stadium is said to be around 130,000 and it is expected to be filled up by Christians from the UAE and the region.
Tickets are required to enter the stadium and there is a strict procedure in place with regards to its distribution. People have to apply online or get their tickets through parishes in the UAE.
There are around a million members of the Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia, which includes the Catholic Church in the UAE, Oman and Yemen.
In Oman there are four parishes and in the UAE there are eight parishes. Tickets for people living in non-GCC countries are being allocated on a first come first served basis.
Applications from the rest of the world outside the Middle East are no longer being accepted as these allocated places are already full, according a website dedicated to the papal visit.
Visitors come to UAE just to try and get a glimpse of the Pope
Needless to say there is a lot of excitement surrounding the Reverend Father’s visit to the UAE, as people, not just from the country, but the Gulf region, the sub-continent and even as far as the west, are making their way here just to get a glimpse of the Pope. While some have been lucky to get a ticket to the stadium, some faithful fans of the Reverand Father say just being present in the same land as him during the three days is divine bless in itself.
Gulf News spoke to some visitors who have booked their tickets from the time they heard about the pontiff's visit. while. Take a look at what they have to say.
Dorothy Fernandes, 85
Dorothy Fernandes has gathered all her courage to travel from Goa to Abu Dhabi, just so she can be near His Holiness during his three-day visit.
“It is an honour to receive blessings of our dear Pope. Honestly speaking it wasn’t easy for me to travel this far but my inner strength and determination took over to make this trip happen,” she told Gulf News.
“Pope Francis has been my inspiration and I fervently pray and look forward to take part in the Papal Mass on February 5 2019. I have great faith that just being here in Abu Dhabi I would be able to experience his divine presence and shower me with his countless blessings.”
Although I don’t have my ticket in hand as yet, I believe that my strong faith and will power will bring in all the necessary luck. I thank the UAE Government and organisers for making this possible for us.”
Joe Alfonso, 80, and his wife Olga, 75
This elderly couple too have come all the way from Canada so they can seek the blessings of the Bishop of Rome. The Canadian nationals are now living with their son and daughter-in-law in Abu Dhabi. “When we heard Pope Francis is coming to the city, I told my son we wanted to visit him. It is a historic moment and we would like to be witness to it. We are trying to secure tickets to the stadium. But even if we don’t get it, we will still be happy with his divine presence in the UAE. The fact that we will be in the same land as him is blessing enough,” said Olga.
Dominigos Paulo Fernandes, 78
Dominigos Paulo Fernandes, 78, another senior citizen living in Goa has flown into Abu Dhabi to witness this historic event of the Pope’s visit to the UAE.
“When my daughter informed me that His Holiness Pope Francis will be visiting Abu Dhabi, I was extremely happy and privileged that I would be able to see him and attend his holy mass. My daughter has arranged to get me a confirmed ticket for the Papal mass. I consider myself blessed as this will be my second opportunity to meet his Holiness in my life time, the first being in 1986 when Saint Pope John Paul II was on his Papal visit to Goa. I thank the UAE Government for giving me this unique opportunity. God bless the Rulers of UAE.”
His 64-year-old sister-in-law, Bertha Pinto is flying down on February 4 morning as she too has been able to secure a ticket for the mass.
“My niece who lives in Abu Dhabi informed me about the pontiff’s visit once it was announced in the Church. I immediately decided to avail this opportunity to meet the Holy Father in person since meeting him in Rome is quite a far dream. I consider myself blessed and fortunate to be given this chance. For me as a Christian this is the closest to being with God and it is truly a special moment.”
Jacinta Diego Rodrigues and her daughter Vivita Rodrigues
The mother – daughter duo, from Mumbai, are expected to fly down to Abu Dhabi on February 1. When they heard about the Papal visit, they booked their tickets online. They have been lucky to secure their tickets to the stadium on February 5 for the papal mass.
“We are overjoyed to say the least and blessed with this opportunity to see the Pope our Holy Father.. Shepard of the truth. I told my son and daughter-in-law to issue my visa and tickets. We will be staying with them and will witness the event together as a family,” said Jacinta.
Vivita added: “Words alone cannot express my thanks for being in the presence of our Excellency Pope Francis. I am grateful to the UAE for this blessed opportunity. In all good faith we booked our flight to Abu Dhabi before evening getting a confirmation on our tickets. I cannot tell you what excitement we had when we heard the news about our ticket confirmation.”
Madhu Prakash Bohra, 56 from Mumbai
Madhu Prakash Bohra, 56 who lives in Mumbai said the visit of the Pope is truly an example of tolerance and goes a long way in instilling interfaith relations. She for one as a Hindu has all her life visited a Church. “Every month I make it a point to visit the St. Mary’s church in Andheri East, Mumbai.
There is a lot of peace here. When I heard about the pope’s visit to Abu Dhabi, I decided to come and visit my son here. I hope to see him, else I will be happy watching the papal mass live at the church in Dubai.”
February 3 (evening)
Pope Francis arrives from Rome; he will be greeted by His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, along with key UAE dignitaries at the Abu Dhabi Presidential airport.
February 4 (12 pm)
Welcome ceremony at the main entrance of the Presidential Palace. He will later make an official visit to the Crown Prince in the Presidential Palace.
February 4 (5 pm)
Pope Francis will visit the Shaikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, to hold a private meeting with the Muslim Council of Elders.
February 5 (morning)
Pope Francis will visit in private to the St Joseph's Cathedral in Abu Dhabi before heading to Zayed Sports City for a Papal mass from 10.30am.
February 5 (1pm)
Pope’s departure to Rome is scheduled at around 1pm. Arrives at 4pm (local time) in Rome.
Pope Francis to visit Cathedral in Abu Dhabi before heading to Zayed Sports City for Papal mass