MIDDLE EAST – Pope Francis conducted the first ever papal mass on the Arabian peninsula during his trip to the United Arab Emirates to foster peaceful inter-religious dialogue.
The pontiff conducted the service Tuesday in Zayed Sports City Stadium for a crowd of approximately 180,000 people, making it one of the largest public displays of Christian worship in the region that served as the birthplace of Islam. Francis delivered words of comfort to expatriate Christians living in the U.A.E. who are away from their families, and exhorted them to live lives of humility that glorify Christ.
“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. But the Lord is faithful and does not abandon his people,” Francis said, according to The Associated Press.
As many Christians work as construction workers and laborers in the U.A.E., which boasts the tallest building in the world, Francis encouraged them to make the aim of their lives not extravagant physical works, but holy lives.
The pontiff said Jesus “did not ask us to build great works or draw attention to ourselves with extraordinary gestures. He asked us to produce just one work of art, possible for everyone: our own life.”
Prayers in several languages, including French, Konkani, and Tagalog, were also given over loudspeakers in light of the diversity among the U.A.E. Christian community.
Francis conducted the mass the day after he and Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, the grand imam of Egypt’s Al-Azhar, signed a declaration of fraternity, which called for peace between nations and religions and pledged cooperation between the Vatican and Al-Azhar to combat extremism. A Reuters photo of a shared embrace between the pontiff and the imam led to widespread claims that Francis and Ahmed shared a mouth to mouth kiss.
Pope Francis and Grand Imam of al-Azhar Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb kiss each other during an inter-religious meeting in Abu Dhabi, and more photos of the day: https://t.co/Qbp0Nkkoky | ? Tony Gentile pic.twitter.com/RbfirftSsT— Reuters Pictures (@reuterspictures) February 4, 2019
The claim proved to be “fake news,” however, as other photos revealed that Francis and Ahmed simply kissed one another on the cheeks — a common form of greeting between males in Arabic culture.Follow Joshua on Twitter