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Catholics queue at St. Joseph's Cathedral in Abu Dhabi to receive free tickets for the Pope's Mass Catholics queue at St. Joseph's Cathedral in Abu Dhabi to receive free tickets for the Pope's Mass 

Pope Francis in UAE: In search of St. Joseph

As Pope Francis sets off on his Apostolic Journey to the United Arab Emirates, our correspondent in Abu Dhabi shares a glimpse of the local Catholic community and Pope Francis' itinerary.

By Linda Bordoni - Abu Dhabi

There are not many Catholic churches in Abu Dhabi, only two to be precise! One is the relatively recent St. Paul’s built in 2011 to cater to the spiritual needs of the large Catholic community who live in the industrial area of Musaffah.

The other is St. Joseph’s Cathedral, and that’s where I wanted to go because it’s where Pope Francis will stop, pray, and meet with some members of its community before celebrating Mass on Tuesday morning for tens of thousands of faithful at the Sports City.

The Pope’s stay in Abu Dhabi is short and the list of places on his programme is not a long one. So, apart from the just mentioned Sayed Sports City, it includes:

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

The magnificent Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is where Pope Francis will meet with the Council of Elders.

Breathtakingly decorated, it is designed to reflect and celebrate the wide diversity of the Muslim world with architectural references to all of the main Mosques of the East. With its 82 domes, its 1.100 majestic columns, 4 minarets, dozens of crystal chandeliers and the largest hand-woven Persian carpet in the world, it can host up to 40,000 worshippers. It’s easy to find thanks to its perfectly proportioned domes that are well visible from afar, attracting crowds of Emiratis and tourists every day.

The Founder’s Memorial

The Founder’s Memorial is three hectares of luscious landscaped gardens and houses an enormous installation entitled “The Constellation” created by the American artist Ralph Helmick.

It’s where the Pope will meet privately with the Council of Elders and inevitably pay his respects to the beloved Founding Father of the Nation, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nayhan, who shaped the United Arab Emirates and bestowed upon it a legacy of tolerance and peaceful coexistence making it the prosperous nation it is today. It’s also easy to find with its allure of green foliage and birdsong: a place of tranquillity and calm in the midst of the row of metallic skyscrapers that define the city skyline.

St. Joseph’s Cathedral

And then there is St. Joseph’s Cathedral whose foundation was laid in 1962 thanks to the far-sighted vision of Sheikh Shakbut.  

I had read that the Church welcomes some 100,000 Catholic migrants from all over the world, and with the growing economy it continues to witness a steady increase in the number of its flock who pack the Church to capacity thanks to a tight schedule of Masses in different languages.

“You want to go to the Christian… mosque?” the taxi driver said to me showing that everyone here knows of its existence. But it proved extremely difficult to find!

After a long drive through a somewhat lifeless urban landscape, Google Maps took us to the right address, but I still had to look hard to pinpoint the building itself which turned out to be a simple, rather squat rectangular cement edifice, squashed in between a series of other buildings, and only a few meters from a Mosque and its towering minarets.

Modest is how I would define it: modest and prayerful, with a joyful crowd of faithful thronging the courtyard outside to pick up their free tickets for the papal Mass, and with a handful of devoted Catholics inside, sitting in silence, praying the rosary on their knees, and reaching out to touch the religious images portrayed inthe simple mosaics with intense love and trust.

That’s why, I think, Pope Francis will love it!

03 February 2019, 10:53