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Abu Dhabi: Shah Rukh, 23, from Rajasthan in India, gingerly applies the finishing touches with an immaculate white paint on a facade outside the St Joseph’s Cathedral compound here on Thursday night.

Meanwhile, a wall and an iron gate is being water-jet sprayed by Nadeem Mohammad, 41, from Islamabad, Pakistan.

On 17th Street, off the 53-year-old Catholic church, which is situated next to the Mary Mother of Jesus Mosque, and surrounded by a number of other Christian churches, maintenance teams work overtime to re-asphalt the road and set new paving bricks.

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Ahead of Pope Francis' visit to Abu Dhabi, maintenance workers repaint the wall of St Anthony Cathedral for Coptic Orthodox next to St. Joseph's Catholic Church in the UAE capital. Image Credit: Jay Hilotin / Gulf News

Ranjith Singh, 45, a supervisor, said they work for a facilities management firm in the UAE capital.

The workers know fully well the reason for the repair job they are doing: The visit of Pope Francis.

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A maintenance team prepare for re-asphalting the road in front of Abu Dhabi's St Joseph's cathedral on Thursday night ahead of the Pope's visit to the UAE. Image Credit: Gulf News

“We’re preparing for the Pope’s visit,” Singh said matter-of-factly.

The scene, as well as the mood in and around the church compound, speaks volumes of the preparations underway in the United Arab Emirates, the first country in the Arabian peninsula to be visited by the head of the Catholic Church.

A group of Filipinos in joyful jubilation after getting their ticket to the Pope's mass in Abu Dhabi. Image Credit: Gulf News

UAE is also the only country to have a Ministry of Tolerance.

Inside the compound, thousands of parishioners patiently form a serpentine queue to get their ticket to the Papal mass on Tuesday, February 5, at the massive Zayed Sports City stadium.

The event will be covered by up to 700 journalists from about 30 countries.

The wait is long, they know security will be tight. But everybody understands the significance of the historic moment. There’s no pushing and shoving.

We took the chance

“We’re excited about this visit,” said Dr Tony Fernandez, 84, a retired eye surgeon, who flew to Abu Dhabi from Kerala, India, with his wife Yvonne, 75, a retired anesthesiologist.

“We took the risk, my children were concerned (about our ability to walk). I said ‘No, I will go and see...and get his blessings’," said Dr Fernandez, who is a Padma Shri awardee, the fourth-highest civilian honour in India, for his work in medicine.


For many of Abu Dhabi's Catholic residents, the visit is a rare chance to attend the mass, considered the highest form of worship in their faith, presided over by the Roman pontiff.

Sister Sonia Selvan, a US embassy staff and lay leader at St. Joseph’s for 18 years, said hundreds of volunteers are giving their labour of love to help the parish carry out the tough task of coordinating the preparations, including the allocation and distribution of tickets.

The cathedral, overseen by Bishop Paul Hinder, 77, a Swiss, will be a hive of activity on Tuesday morning when the Pope, an 82-year-old Argentine, will meet a mix of about 300 people, including children of determination, elderly who require care and unable to attend church regularly and some lesser privileged migrant workers.

After the private audience, the Pope will preside over an open-air mass expected to be attended by about 135,000 people at the Zayed Sports City Statium.

About 36,000 tickets are being distributed in Abu Dhabi, of which more than 2,000 tickets are allocated for visitors flying in from Europe, according to organisers.

Prayer of the faithful in many tongues:

During the Pope's mass in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday, the Prayer of the Faithful, part of the Catholic liturgy of the Eucharist (thanksgiving), will be said in several languages, including:

  • Arabic
  • Hindi
  • Korean
  • Tagalog
  • English
  • French
  • Malayalam