Pope proves blockbuster draw at historic papal mass in Abu Dhabi

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The pontiff stood somberly as the Vatican and Emirati anthems played ahead of a Papal visit which will see him meet with Islamic and political leaders and celebrate an outdoor mass with around 135,000 Catholic worshippers. They also included members of the Eastern churches, which have suffered greatly under the Islamist outrages of recent years.

In a homily on Tuesday, he turned to the tens of thousands of migrant workers living in the Emirates. Perhaps in a nod to the UAE's predominantly immigrant population, he said: "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".

During the interreligious conference and even the large mass in Abu Dhabi, the pope spoke of Saint Francis and his instructions on how his brethren were to approach Saracens and non-Christians: "At that time, as many people were setting out, heavily armed, Saint Francis pointed out that Christians set out armed only with their humble faith and concrete love".

"War can not create anything but misery, weapons bring nothing but death", he said in a speech after meeting UAE leaders in the capital Abu Dhabi yesterday, the first full day of a trip he hopes will foster peace through religious dialogue.

Almost one million Catholic migrants reside in the UAE, mostly hailing from the Philippines and India.

Asian nationals make up some 65 percent of the population and are crucial to all sectors in the oil-rich Gulf state, from construction to services and hotels.

Anticipation for the mass, the pope's largest single event during his visit to the region, has built steadily in recent days.

The stadium itself could only fit 50,000 spectators, with up to 120,000 watching via a video link outside. UAE officials had stressed ahead of the visit that Francis could say whatever he pleased.

Another highlight of his brief 40-hour trip will be a speech tonight to a gathering of faith leaders, a show of religious tolerance in a Muslim region known for its restrictions on religious freedom.

Tolerance Minister Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, greeted the crowd at the stadium before the pope's arrival for mass.

Pope Francis on Monday called for an end to wars in the Middle East during the first visit by the head of the Catholic church to the birthplace of Islam, the Arabian Peninsula.

All religious leaders had a "duty to reject every nuance of approval from the word war", he told the interfaith meeting on Monday.

"I am thinking in particular of Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Libya", he said.

The UAE has been involved in the Saudi-led military coalition in the war in Yemen.

While the pope did not openly discuss politics, he called for "the full recognition" of rights for people across the Middle East, a potential reference to communities including Shiites in Saudi Arabia, refugees and migrants, stateless peoples and other minorities.

"I look forward to societies where people of different beliefs have the same right of citizenship and where only in the case of violence in any of its forms is that right removed", he said.

It's the brainchild of Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, the grand imam of Egypt's Al-Azhar, the revered 1,000-year-old seat of Sunni Islam learning that trains clerics and scholars from around the world.

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