Catholics flock to pope’s historic mass in UAE

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The papal motorcade outside Zayed Sports City Stadium in the UAE capital Abu Dhabi. (Ziyad Alarfaj for Arab News, Reuters)
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Catholics gathered in their thousands at Zayed Sports City Stadium. (Ziyad Alarfaj for Arab News, Reuters)
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Catholics gathered in their thousands at Zayed Sports City Stadium. (Ziyad Alarfaj for Arab News, Reuters)
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The papal motorcade outside Zayed Sports City Stadium in the UAE capital Abu Dhabi. (Ziyad Alarfaj for Arab News, Reuters)
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Catholics gathered in their thousands at Zayed Sports City Stadium. (Ziyad Alarfaj for Arab News, Reuters)
Updated 06 February 2019

Catholics flock to pope’s historic mass in UAE

  • Worshippers from far and wide gathered in their tens of thousands to see Pope Francis

ABU DHABI: They came by coach, by car and on foot to the stadium at Zayed Sports City, in carefully planned convoys and spur-of-the-moment trips.
They came in their tens of thousands, and each had a tale to tell of the day they came up close and personal with Pope Francis in the UAE capital Abu Dhabi.
In a true test of faith, Lena Malpiedi from Denmark and her Italian husband drove through the night all the way from Oman’s capital Muscat in order to attend the holy mass.
“We’ve never seen the pope before. Standing here between Christians and Muslims while knowing of the clashes around the world, it sends an extremely strong message. We need more like it,” she said.
Many of those who wanted to perform this unique and historic pilgrimage traveled much shorter distances, but nonetheless were faced with challenges.
Thousands traveled in a massive convoy of coaches overnight from Dubai — where the biggest Catholic community in the Gulf resides — for the event.
Dubai expat Rosalie Ayuso from the Philippines, her husband Paul and his three siblings were among the many who mastered the logistics of the coach convoy down the busy E11 motorway to Abu Dhabi.
“We went to the pickup point at 12 a.m. and the bus left Dubai after an hour. We arrived at 3 a.m. and waited for two hours before they let us into the stadium,” said Ayuso.
She had not slept for at least 24 hours, but that did not matter once she had glimpsed the pope. “Sometimes you have to make these sacrifices. It’s all worth it in the end,” she added.
The scene inside the stadium, and on the lawns in front of big screens outside, was a family affair, but not all families were lucky enough to get seats together.
Filipinos Krisha and Keith Ayuso, who got tickets outside the stadium, were separated from two of their other siblings who were seated inside.
“Our brother and sister, who had a better view of the pope inside, were sharing pictures with us through WhatsApp,” Keith said, adding that their experience was just as good because they got to see the pope when he toured around the stadium in a white Mercedes car. aThe Ayuso siblings said they grew up going to church together, and that has made their relationship strong.
“Going to church as a family has made us see the importance of being together, which we consider is our greatest wealth,” Paul said.
Christopher Hilis, a Filipino who volunteered as a helper for the visit, was dropped at the site of the papal mass on Monday night, and had to stay there until Tuesday morning to help with preparations.
Smiling and excited, he told Arab News: “Luckily I was posted at gate 31, where the pope was coming in. I lost a lot of zzz’s, but it’s all worth it to see the pope in a Muslim country. It’ll take away the stigma that Muslims and Christians must be separate.”
Hilis moved to the UAE three years ago, and had no clue he would get the chance to meet the pope, in Abu Dhabi of all places. “The UAE is making change possible,” he added.
For Shanelle D’sa, this was not the first time she attended a mass with Pope Francis. She had been at one of his first papal masses in Brazil, but she said that did not take away from the joy she felt this time.
“It’s an experience you can’t really put into words. I didn’t expect it to be possible, a holy mass in the UAE,” she added.
In yet another family grouping, Roselyn Netto, an Indian woman living in Dubai, was with her husband and two children, aged 7 and 1.
“It’s really nice. I feel peace in my heart right now. It’s a great chance for me and my family, especially my kids, that we got the blessing from Pope Francis,” she told Arab News.
Many of them stayed on after the mass, when the stadium and lawns were turned into an impromptu pop concert venue starring Filipino “pop princess” Sarah Geronimo, and families enjoyed picnics in the pleasantly warm afternoon sunshine.


Troops halt Lebanese ‘revolution bus’ over security concerns

Lebanese anti-government protesters flash victory signs as they head to the south of Lebanon on a 'revolution' bus from central Beirut on November 16, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 17 November 2019

Troops halt Lebanese ‘revolution bus’ over security concerns

  • The protest convoy is aiming to reach Nabatieh and Tyre, two cities that have challenged Hezbollah and the Amal Movement in southern Lebanon during weeks of unrest

BEIRUT: A Lebanese “revolution bus” traveling from north to south to unite protesters was halted by troops outside the city of Sidon on Saturday.
The army set up a road block to prevent the bus and a large protest convoy entering Sidon, the third-largest city in the country.
Local media said that the decision had been made to defuse tensions in the area following widespread protests.
Lebanese troops blocked the Beirut-South highway at the Jiyeh-Rumailah checkpoint over “security concerns,” a military source told Arab News.
“Some people in Sidon objected to the crossing of the bus and we feared that problems may take place,” the source added.
A protester in Ilya Square in Sidon said: “Those who do not want the bus to enter Sidon should simply leave the square because there are many who want to welcome the bus.”
The army allowed the bus to enter the town of Rumailah, 2 km from Sidon. “The bus will stop here after nightfall because of security fears and the risk of an accident,” the military source said.
The protest convoy is aiming to reach Nabatieh and Tyre, two cities that have challenged Hezbollah and the Amal Movement in southern Lebanon during weeks of unrest.
Activists said the protest bus “is spreading the idea of a peaceful revolution by unifying the people.”
“The pain is the same from the far north of Lebanon to the south and the only flag raised is the Lebanese flag,” one activist said.
Organizers of the protest convoy rejected claims that the cities of Sidon, Nabatieh and Tyre were reluctant to welcome the bus, and voiced their respect for the Lebanese army decision.

After leaving Akkar the bus passed through squares that witnessed protests in Tripoli, Batroun, Jbeil, Zouk Mosbeh, Jal El Dib and Beirut. Protesters chanted “Revolution” and lined the route of the convoy, turning it into a “procession of the revolution.”
The bus paused in Khalde, where the first victim of the protests, Alaa Abu Fakhr, was shot and killed a few days ago by a Lebanese soldier. The victim’s widow and family welcomed the convoy and protesters laid wreaths at the site of the shooting.
Activists’ tweets on Saturday claimed that life in Beirut’s southern suburbs is as difficult as in other areas of Lebanon.
“As a Shiite girl living in the heart of the southern suburbs, I deny that we are living well and not suffering. We are in a worse position than the rest of the regions,” said an activist who called herself Ruanovsky.
“No one is doing well,” said Wissam Abdallah. “The suburbs have external security and safety, but unfortunately there is a lot of corruption. There are forged car van plates, motorcycle mafia, Internet and satellite mafia, royalties mafia, and hashish and drugs mafia. Municipalities have to deal with these things as soon as possible.”