By Linda Bordoni – Abu Dhabi
Say what you like about the opulence, but one thing is for sure: the Emiratis know how to put on a welcome ceremony and Pope Francis was certainly treated to the full shebang.
I could see it coming: having lived in Italy for many years I can say I am quite accustomed to the beauty of Carrara marble and exquisite art work, but never have I seen such a lavish use of precious marble, crystal chandeliers, towering domes, and gold decorations of all shapes and sizes.
Such a historic visit as this, along with the attention of the international media, provides a unique occasion to show the world how guests are welcomed and pampered in the United Arab Emirates.
For days the acrobatic pilots of a special air team practiced their aerial acrobatics above the bay. Today, they greeted Pope Francis from above, spurting trails of yellow and white smoke in honour of the Vatican colours.
The papal motorcade itself was accompanied by over a dozen horsemen on beautiful Arab stallions. They made their way through perfectly manicured lawns and wide avenues carrying Vatican and UAE flags.
Message of love and solidarity
I asked a UAE media person why there was no one lining the roads to greet Francis as he travelled through a deserted landscape: “Because it is all happening inside the sprawling Presidential Palace grounds” he answered, which cover an area of 150 hectares.
The majestic Arabian-style white palace itself boasts over 70 mosaic, glass, and golden domes. The handles on the doors of the grandiose entrance are four metres high, and the doors themselves are so heavy they function thanks to a system similar to that of a hydro-electric dam.
We all know that Pope Francis is not one for luxury and riches, but he will surely make the most of this kind of attention to boost his energy and speak powerfully to all who want to hear his message of love and solidarity for those in need.
We can only guess how loud his words will echo through these marble corridors, but I am sure the breeze of the Arabian Gulf will carry them into the peripheries of the peninsula and much further abroad.