Pope Francis at the Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi. Image Credit: AFP

Reporting by Gulf News staff: Alex Abraham, Jay Hilotin, Anupa Kurian, Aelred Luis, Evangeline Elsa, Anjana Kumar, Janice Ponce De Leon, Irish Eden Belleza, Ahmed Ramzan, Ahmed Kutty, Abdul Rahman and Leslie Sison

'Baba Francis' brought with him the message of love, human dignity and peace on his historic visit to the UAE. Abu Dhabi drew the biggest gathering of Catholic faithful in this part of the world, with more than 180,000 people converging at the Shaikh Zayed Sports City stadium on Tuesday. Watch our live coverage here:

2.08pm

On the Papal flight returning to Rome. 

Pope Francis on the aircraft bound to Rome from UAE. Image Credit: Gulf News

Pope Francis departs Abu Dhabi

The Head of the Catholic Church His Holiness Pope Francis was seen off at the Presidential Flight by His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, and a host of other UAE shaikhs, ministers and dignitaries.

Shaikh Mohammad praised Pope Francis for his role in establishing the foundations of world peace, fraternity, tolerance and humanitarian dialogue. He also expressed his thanks and appreciation for his passionate participation in the various events and initiatives as part of the Global Conference of Human Fraternity.

The Abu Dhabi Crown Prince went on to laud the launch of the 'Human Fraternity Declaration' signed by the Pope and His Eminence Dr. Ahmad Al Tayyeb, Grand Imam of Al Azhar Al Sharif, which seeks to build bridges of love, amity and coexistence among peoples. Shaikh Mohammad was presented with a copy of the Declaration from the Pope before his departure.

It is customary for the Pontiff to send telegrams to Heads of State of the countries over which the papal plane will be flying over as travels. In a message to President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Pope Francis said, "As I depart from the United Arab Emirates, I renew my deep appreciation to Your Highness, the government and the people of the UAE for your warm welcome and generous hospitality. I assure you of my prayers and invoke upon all of you abundant divine blessings," the message said.

1.00pm

180,000 Catholics in UAE attend Pope Francis’s Mass

Pope Francis has delivered a groundbreaking Papal Mass to more than 180,000 Catholics in the United Arab Emirates.

The scale of the event, which took place at Zayed Sports Stadium in Abu Dhabi, is unprecedented for an event of this kind in the Arabian Peninsula and saw tens of thousands come from every corner of the UAE and overseas to participate.

To ensure the safety and security of everyone attending this historic occasion, multiple UAE Government authorities worked in close partnership with the Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia, AVOSA, the territorial jurisdiction of the Catholic Church covering the UAE, Oman and Yemen.

His Holiness greeted the excited and jubilant crowds as he made his way into Zayed Stadium to conduct the Mass.

The Catholic Mass, known more fully as the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, is the central liturgical ritual in the Catholic Church where the Eucharist, or Holy Communion, is consecrated. Tuesday’s Mass began at 10:30 a.m. and lasted for 90 minutes and was broadcast on giant screens within Zayed Sports City and simultaneously streamed live on the internet – allowing Catholics who were unable to attend to celebrate this historic event.

12.55pm

'This celebration was a source of great joy to me'

His Holiness Pope Francis, Head of the Catholic Church, today delivered a Holy Mass in front of 180,000 worshippers who gathered inside and outside of the Shaikh Zayed Stadium to participate in a historic moment for locals, residents and the visitors of Abu Dhabi.

Delivering a greeting at the end of the Mass, Pope Francis said: "Before concluding this celebration, which has been a source of great joy to me, I wish to extend my affectionate greeting to all of you who have participated; the Chaldean, Coptic, Greek-Catholic, Greek-Melchite, Latin, Maronite, Syro-Catholic, Syro-Malabar and the Syro-Malankar faithful."

"I sincerely thank Bishop Hinder (Apostolic Vicar of Southern Arabia) for the preparations of this visit and for all his pastoral work. A warm thanks also to the Patriarchs, Major Archbishops and all the other Bishops present, to the priests, consecrated persons and to so many lay faithful who are deeply committed, with generosity and a spirit of service, to their communities and to the poorest."

"May Our Most Blessed Mother Mary sustain you in your love of the Church and in your joyful witness to the Gospel. Please, do not forget to pray for me. Thank you!," the Pontiff said in conclusion.

12.20pm

A people united in peace

In a world torn apart by so much differences, going in different directions, unity can be elusive.

There’s an antidote: The union of married couples who bear each other’s burdens, the union the UAE represents, a people united in peace, mutual respect, tolerance and love, in a kind of union that liberates the human person.

There’s so much that can tear us apart, but there’s so much more that we share, that bless people and nations.

The Holy Father prayed: “Look not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church and grant us peace and unity of your kingdom, where You live forever and ever.”

He invoked the mercy of the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.”

On this visit, the Pope is joined by Patriarchs, Cardinals, bishops and religious men and women from different parts of the world.

During the announcements, Bishop Paul Hinder, who is based In Abu Dhabi, said: “You have come to us as a pastor, for the migrant workers here. We renew our loyalty to the successor of Peter.”

The bishop also recalled the encounter in the year 1219, between Saint Francis and the Sultan of Egypt.

He also thanked the United Arab Emirates, especially His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nathan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, for making the Pope’s visit possible.

“We wish you and your entourage a safe trip back to Rome.”

During the announcements, Pope Francis also thanked “the children of Zayed and the House of Zayed.”

Finally, to the warm applause of the congregation, the dismissal came: “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.”

The service is now over.

It’s been an awesome, memorable, blessed day!

11.38am

Giving communion

11.01am

To each his own

“The Lord is close,” Pope Francis tells the congregation in his Homily in Italian. The Pope preaches about “gracias”, graces…and living out the Beatitudes.

“It does not require dramatic gestures…The Beatitudes are thus a roadmap for our live; They do not require superhuman actions, but rather the imitation of Jesus in our everyday life. They invite us to keep our hearts pure, the practice meekness and justice despite everything, to be merciful to all, to live affliction in union with God.”

An Arabic translation of the Pope’s homily immediately follows.

In front of me, a journalist is writing on his laptop in Malayalam script. To my left, a Spanish reporter does her spiel in her own language. A CNN team is not far behind. People everywhere can watch the mass live on YouTube. And passengers on board Etihad and Emirates flights have access to it, too.

The cultures, tribes and tongues gathered here in Abu Dhabi, the technical arrangements that made all these possible, is just amazing. It’s the first time the Pope is saying mass in Arabia, and the first time a mass is beamed live to UAE airlines at 30,000+ feet.

The message — “the Beatitudes are not for supermen, but for those who face up to the challenges and trails of each day” — is timeless. The way to get it — at home, in a stadium like where we are, on social media, in a passenger jet — is almost limitless. The message we listen to, or train our eyes on, is entirely up to us.

10.30am, Mass begins

Choir sings the entrance hymn

As the Papal mass starts here at the Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi, I’m next to a group of Emirati men and women.

The choir sings the entrance hymn. The Emiratis respectfully stood at attention, along with the congregation, gathered as the Pope and his ministers entered the all-white altar in the middle of the football pitch, to start the prayer service.

Composed, observant, respectful they are, as the choir sings the entrance song: “Christ, Be Our Light.” Pope Francis asks those gathered to confess and acknowledge past sins.

Silence. He then says: “May Almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins and bring us to everlasting life.”

The sound system here is concert-quality. The choir sings with a majestic voice.

First reading, Paul’s letter to the Philippians (4:6-9), is read in in Arabic.

The response in Latin: “Deo Gracias”

Responsible Psalm is read in English: “The Lord speaks to His people.”

The deacon reads the Gospel reading. It’s about the beatitudes. “Happy are the peacemakers; they shall be called sons of God. Happy those who are persecuted in the cause of right; theirs is the Kingdom of God.”

Now the Pope is giving his homily... Three choppers hover overhead.

Pope Francis's Homily (full text here)

“Blessed” – This is the word with which Jesus begins his preaching in Matthew's Gospel and it is the refrain he repeats today, as if to fix in our hearts, more than anything, an essential message: If you are with Jesus, if you love to listen to his word as the disciples of that time did, if you try to live out this word every day, then you are blessed.

Not you will be blessed, but you are blessed; this is the first truth we know about the Christian life. It is not simply a list of external prescriptions to fulfil or a set of teachings to know. The Christian life, first and foremost, is not this; rather, it is the knowledge that in Jesus we are the Father's beloved children.

The Christian life means living out of the joy of this blessedness, wanting to live life as a love story, the story of God's faithful love, He who never abandons us and wishes to be in communion with us always.

This is the reason for our joy, a joy that no one in the world and no circumstance in our lives can take from us. It is a joy that gives peace also in the midst of pain, a joy that already makes us participate in that eternal happiness which awaits us.

Dear brothers and sisters, in the joy of meeting you, this is the word I have come to say to you: blessed!

Even as Jesus calls his own disciples blessed, we are yet struck by the reasons for the individual Beatitudes. We see in them an overturning of the popular thinking, according to which it is the rich and the powerful who are blessed, those who are successful and acclaimed by the crowds. For Jesus, on the other hand, blessed are the poor, the meek, those who remain just even at the cost of appearing in a bad light, and those who are persecuted.

Who is correct here: Jesus or the world? To understand this let us look at how Jesus lived: poor in respect to things, but wealthy in love; He healed so many lives, but did not spare his own. He came to serve and not to be served; he taught us that greatness is not found in having but rather in giving. Just and meek, he did not offer resistance, but allowed himself to be condemned unjustly. In this way Jesus brought God's love into the world. Only in this way did he defeat death, sin, fear and even worldliness: Only by the power of divine love. Let us together ask here today for the grace of rediscovering the attraction of following Jesus, of imitating him, of not seeking anyone else but him and his humble love. For here is the meaning of our life: in communion with him and inner love for others. Do you believe in this?

I have also come to say thank you for the way in which you live the Gospel we heard. People say that the difference between the written Gospel and the lived Gospel is the same difference between written music and performed music.

You who are here know the Gospel's tune and you follow its rhythm with enthusiasm. You are a choir composed of numerous nations, languages and rites; a diversity that the Holy Spirit loves and wants to harmonise ever more, in order to make a symphony. This joyful polyphony of faith is a witness that you give everyone and that builds up the Church.

It struck me what Bishop Hinder once said: that he not only feels himself to be your shepherd but that you, by your example, are often shepherds to him.

To live the life of the blessed and following the way of Jesus does not, however, mean always being cheerful. Someone who is afflicted, who suffers injustice, who does everything he can to be a peacemaker, knows what it means to suffer.

It is most certainly not easy for you to live far from home, missing the affection of your loved ones, and perhaps also feeling uncertainty about the future. But the Lord is faithful and does not abandon his people.

A story from the lives of Saint Anthony, the Abbot, the great founder of monasticism in the desert, may be helpful to us. He left everything for the Lord and found himself in the desert. There, for a time, he was immersed in a bitter spiritual struggle that gave him no peace; he was assaulted by doubt and darkness and even by temptation to give in to nostalgia and regrets about his earlier life.

But then, after all this torment the Lord consoled him and Saint Anthony asked him: "Where were you? Why did you not appear before to free me from my suffering?" But then he clearly heard Jesus' answer: "I was here, Anthony" (Saint Athanasius, Vita Antonii, 10). The Lord is close. It can happen that, when faced with fresh sorrow or a difficult period, we think we are alone, even after all the time we have spent with the Lord. But, in those moments, where he might not intervene immediately, he walks at our side.

And if we continue to go forward, he will open up a new way for us; for the Lord specializes in doing new things; he can even open paths in the desert (cf. Is 43:19)

Dear brothers and sisters, I want to tell you that living out the Beatitudes does not require dramatic gestures. Look at Jesus: he left nothing written, built nothing imposing. And when he told us how to live, he did not ask us to build great works or draw attention to ourselves with extraordinary gestures. He asked us to produce just one work of art, possible for everyone: our own life. The Beatitudes are thus a roadmap for our life: they do not require superhuman actions, but rather the imitation of Jesus in our everyday life. They invite us to keep our hearts pure, to practice meekness and justice despite everything, to be merciful to all, to live affliction in union with God. This is the holiness of daily life, one that has no need of miracles or of extraordinary signs. The Beatitudes are not for supermen, but for those who face up to the challenges and trials of each day. Those who live out the Beatitudes according to Jesus are able to cleanse the world. They are like a tree that even in the wasteland absorbs polluted air each day and gives back oxygen. It is my hope that you will be like this, rooted in Jesus and ready to do good to those around you. May your communities be oases of peace.

Finally, I would like to consider for a moment two of the Beatitudes.

First: "Blessed are the meek" (Mathew 5:5).

Those who attack or overpower others are not blessed, but rather those that uphold Jesus' way of acting, he who saved us, and who was meek even towards his accusers. I like to quote Saint Francis, when he gave his brothers instructions about approaching the Saracens and non-Christians. He wrote: "Let them not get into arguments or disagreements, but be subject to every human creature out of love for God, and let them profess that they are Christians" (Regula Non Bullata, XVI). Neither arguments nor disagreements: at that time, as many people were setting out, heavily armed, Saint Francis pointed that Christians set out armed only with their humble faith and concrete love. Meekness is important: if we live in the world according to the ways of God, we will become channels of his presence; otherwise, we will not bear fruit.

Second: "Blessed are the peacemakers" (Mathew 5:9)

The Christian promotes peace, starting with the community where he or she lives. In the Book of Revelation, among the communities that Jesus himself addresses, there is one, namely Philadelphia, that I think bears a likeness to you. It is a Church which, unlike almost all the others, the Lord does not reproach for anything. Indeed, that Church kept Jesus' word without renouncing his name and persevered, went forward, even in the midst of difficulties. There is also a significant detail: the name Philadelphia means brotherly love. Fraternal love. Thus a Church which perseveres in Jesus' word and fraternal love is pleasing to the Lord and bears fruit. I ask for you the grace to preserve peace, unity, to take care of each other, with that beautiful fraternity in which there are no first or second class Christians.

May Jesus, who calls you blessed, give you the grace to go forward without becoming discouraged, abounding in love "to one another and to all" (I Thessalonians 3:12)

10.29am

Gulf News staff among the singers

Gulf News staff Fermel Fuentes was chosen amongst hundreds of singers who auditioned for a solo for the Papal Mass. Fuentes said he did a music video, which served as an audition. The video was then sent to the Vatican for approval. And to his delight, the video was chosen. “I am very happy that I was a part of this momentous event in the UAE, let alone to sing solo for His Holiness Pope Francis during this historic visit to the UAE, Fuentes said. Fermel is one of the members of the Dubai Chamber Choir, founded in December 2004 in the UAE.

Fermel Fuentes in Papal Mass choir Image Credit: Supplied

10.28am

Mass about to start

It’s a beautiful, extraordinary day in the United Arab Emirates.

A sea of white-and-yellow flags, the Vatican colours, and chants of “Viva El Papa!”, welcome Pope Francis as he enters the stadium in a top-down white vehicle.

Overhead, at least choppers are hovering. One must give it to Abu Dhabi — for leaving no stone unturned in making this visit possible.

In the last three days, the United Arab Emirates’ reception and arrangements for the Pope can only be described in superlatives — grand, regal, elaborate.

At the sprawling Zayed Stadium, security is tight but efficient. May those who come here be truly blessed with peace, joy and love.

Including the police patrols on foot and astride horses, the exceptional people who provided the facilities — mobile toilets, at ambulance units, a lost-and-found corner, people manning the media centre — the volunteers giving free bottled water.

The Pope mass is about to start.

10.01am

Pope Francis arrives at the stadium in a open-top Pope mobile as he waves and blesses thousands gathered.

Earlier, Pope at St Joseph's Cathedral 

9.38am

Minister of Tolerance Shaikh Nahayan Mabarak Al Nahayan has just arrived at Shaikh Zayed Sports City stadium to a loud applause.

9:15 am

Pope Francis has arrived at a Roman Catholic church in Abu Dhabi for a visit before celebrating Mass.

The pope arrived at St Joseph's Cathedral in Abu Dhbai and was greeted outside by a cheering youth choir wearing red-and-white robes.

He arrived in a simple Kia hatchback and waved at those waiting.

Some shouted: "Viva el Papa!" Others reached over rails to shake his hands.

Inside, the faithful filled pews and looked on at Francis.

9.12am

9.03am

9am

8.55am

8.52am

8.50am

Hungry for meaning and purpose

I’m here, in this stadium, because it’s my job.

They’re here, this great multitude, because it’s their choice.

To feed the soul, with this small act of sacrifice.

To fill the heart, hungry for meaning and purpose.

To be one, in an act of worship and prayer — with the head of the Catholic Faithful, Pope Francis, at the Zayed Sports City Stadium, now fast filling to the brim.

8.30am

8.18am

A blessed morning indeed! It is just 8am in Abu Dhabi and the Zayed Sports City Stadium is already reverberating with graceful singing of hymns, setting a spiritual countdown to the historic Papal Mass that is nearly two and half hours away. As the sound of music wafts in the air on a bright early morning, the stadium is quickly filling up with faithful - mothers holding infants, volunteers at hand to help the elderly and infirm, people of determination confidently making their way to their assigned seats to take a vantage point to participate in the Holy Mass for Justice and Peace presided by Pope Francis.

8.10am

The international choir has taken its place at the stadium and started music rehearsals more than two hours ahead of the mass. 

8am

7.45am

7 am

Thousands of faithful began to descend on the Zayed Sports City Stadium as early as 2am.

The winter cold did nothing to weaken the fired up spirits of the faithful. One by one, they entered the stadium in an orderly manner, many beaming as volunteers greeted them good morning. Free breakfast was distributed to the attendees with juice, banana, and water.

Families took selfies as they entered the stadium, moms urging their kids for a jumpshot. Many were seen sleeping in their seats. Others were bundled up in the corner under the gallery seats.

Friends Marie Claire Curley from Scotland, Lina Albuquerque and Philomena D'souza, arrived at the stadium at 4am. They left Dubai at 1.30am. The trio in their 60s walked nearly 3km from the bus drop-off point.

Marie Claire, Lina and Philomena at the Papal Mass Image Credit: Gulf News

"It was a good morning walk," D'souza told Gulf News. "Everybody is so pleasant and smiling."

"The event is highly organised. Police were there to guide us on the way," Curley said.

One of the volunteers during the morning prayer. Image Credit: Gulf News

Some 1,400 volunteers have been at the stadium since 9pm Monday, among them is Mohammad Azeem.

Azeem lauded the attendees for their cooperation. He hasn't had sleep like most of the volunteers. Their 21-hour duty is expected to end at 5pm.