DUBAI: Thousands of Catholics have been queuing for hours outside UAE churches, eagerly waiting to collect their tickets for Tuesday’s historic papal mass.
Pope Francis will be the first pontiff to visit the Gulf peninsula when he arrives in Abu Dhabi late on Sunday night at the presidential airport.
And on Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019 he will lead a mass before 135,000 worshippers at the Zayed Sports City Stadium in the UAE capital.
As the big day approaches, thousands of Catholics have been queuing outside Catholic churches across the country to pick up their tickets.
The ticket will not only grant the thousands of faithful access to the papal mass in and around the stadium, but also a day off work.
The Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization announced that anyone with a ticket would be entitled to the extra day’s leave.
The decision “underlines the UAE’s ongoing dedication to facilitating interfaith dialogue which also coincides with the Year of Tolerance,” a statement from the ministry said.
Getting the ticket has required a certain level of patience, determination, and a true commitment, which many have been prepared to make.
“There was already a long line by around 4:30 p.m., even though ticket distribution started later at 6 p.m.,” said church volunteer Lucy Pascua, who was guiding the crowds at St Mary’s Catholic Church in Dubai on Tuesday.
Approximately 36,000 tickets have to be distributed to individuals by the end of Friday, Pascua said.
There are 1 million Catholics living in the UAE according to estimates by the Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia (AVOSA), the official church jurisdiction in charge of UAE, Oman, and Yemen.
With a limit of 135,000 tickets for Tuesday’s mass, there are many people who will not be able to attend.
To ensure that the tickets were fairly distributed names were selected from a draw – but in some cases this has led to only one member of a family being granted access to the mass.
“I was here yesterday to claim my ticket. Now, I’m with my husband, and we hope we could also get a ticket for him,” Filipina, Lovely Medina told Arab News.
Medina said she had previously queued for four hours to collect her ticket.
“I’ve been in the UAE for five years, but I’ve never been to Abu Dhabi. Now I’m going there, and I’m going to see the pope,” added the 28-year-old Filipina.
Bipin from India, said he had not expected to get three tickets – one for each member of his family.
“I would never get this chance again in my life, so I’m really happy, especially that I’ll be with my wife and child,” he said.
Those who won’t be able to attend at the venue are still able to watch the pope’s historic mass online and at venues set up by the various churches.