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Tue 5 Feb 2019 04:07 PM

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Pope Francis departs, with message for UAE President

Head of the Catholic Church completes three-day visit to Abu Dhabi, the first to the Gulf region

Pope Francis departs, with message for UAE President
Pope Francis has departed the UAE following a three-day visit to Abu Dhabi. (WAM)

Pope Francis, the head of the Catholic Church, has departed the UAE following a three-day visit to Abu Dhabi.

He was seen off by Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, and a host of other UAE sheikhs, ministers and dignitaries.

Sheikh Mohamed praised Pope Francis for his role in establishing the foundations of world peace, fraternity, tolerance and humanitarian dialogue, state news agency WAM reported on Tuesday.

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 also hailed the launch of the Human Fraternity Declaration signed by the Pope and Dr Ahmad el-Tayeb, Grand Imam of Al Azhar Al Sharif, which seeks to build bridges of love, amity and coexistence among peoples.
Sheikh Mohamed was presented with a copy of the Declaration from the Pope before his departure.

In a message to UAE President 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."

Earlier, Pope Francis held a historic public mass for an estimated 170,000 Catholics at an Abu Dhabi stadium on the first ever papal visit to the Gulf region.

The pope waved at an enthusiastic crowd carrying Vatican flags and banners as he drove into Zayed Sports City Stadium, where an altar with a large cross was set up for the unprecedented open-air service in a country where worship is normally allowed only inside churches.

Inside the stadium, 50,000 Catholics with tickets to the mass cheered the pope on, with one small group hoisting a pink posterboard which read "We the Catholics of Yemen love you!".

Another 120,000 were gathered outside, watching via video link on large screens.

A choir sang hymns as the pope, joined by priests of different nationalities, began the service, broadcast live on Emirati television.