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.


Change needed in Lebanon after Beirut blast, says German foreign minister

Updated 23 min 52 sec ago

Change needed in Lebanon after Beirut blast, says German foreign minister

  • Maas gave a check for over 1 million euro to the Lebanese Red Cross
  • It is part of 20 million euros in humanitarian aid from Germany

BEIRUT: Germany’s foreign minister said on Wednesday that Lebanon needed a government that can fight corruption and enact reforms as he toured Beirut port, scene of the devastating explosion that has triggered protests and led the government to resign.
Last week’s blast at a warehouse storing highly-explosive material for years killed at least 171 people, injured some 6,000 and damaged swathes of the Mediterranean city, compounding a deep economic and financial crisis.
“It is impossible that things go on as before,” Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said. “The international community is ready to invest but needs securities for these investments. It is important to have a government that fights the corruption.”
“Many in Europe have a lot of interest for this country. They want to know that there are economic reforms and good governance. Whoever takes over responsibility in Lebanon has a lot to do.”
Maas gave a check for over 1 million euro to the Lebanese Red Cross, part of 20 million euros in humanitarian aid from Germany.
International humanitarian assistance has poured in but foreign countries have made clear they will not write blank cheques to a state viewed by its own people as deeply corrupt. Donors are seeking enactment of long-demanded reforms in return for financial assistance to pull Lebanon from economic meltdown.
The resignation of Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s government has plunged Lebanon into deeper uncertainty. Its talks with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout had already been put on hold over a row between the government, banks and politicians about the scale of vast financial losses.
Sitting amid the debris, Lebanese expressed their frustration at the state for abandoning them in their desperate efforts to rebuild homes and businesses wrecked in the blast.
“Who knows what will happen. How will we get back to business,” said Antoinne Matta, 74, whose safe and lock store was heavily damaged by the blast. Five employees were wounded.
“We in Lebanon are used to the government not doing anything.”
Unrest has erupted with Lebanese calling for the wholesale removal of a ruling class they brand as responsible for the country’s woes. The financial crisis has ravaged the currency, paralyzed banks and sent prices soaring.
Officials have said the blast could have caused losses of $15 billion, a bill Lebanon cannot pay, given the depths of the financial crisis that has seen people frozen out of their savings accounts since October amid dollar scarcity.
The central bank has instructed local banks to extend interest-free dollar loans to individuals and businesses for essential repairs, and that it would in turn provide those financial institutions with the funding.
Bandali Gharabi, whose photo studio was destroyed, said that so far local authorities had only give him a compensation sheet to fill out. He does not know if the bank will provide financial assistance because he already has a car loan.
“Everything is gone,” he said. “I just want someone to rebuild my shop.”
President Michel Aoun has promised a swift and transparent investigation into the blast at a warehouse where authorities say more than 2,000 tons of ammonium nitrate was stored for years without safety measures. He has said the probe would look into whether it was negligence, an accident or external factors.
Reuters reported that Aoun and Diab were warned in July about the warehoused ammonium nitrate, according to documents and senior security sources.
The presidency did not respond to requests for comment about the warning letter.
An emergency donor conference raised pledges of nearly 253 million euros ($298 million) for immediate humanitarian relief.
Volunteers and construction workers with bulldozers were still clearing wreckage from neighborhoods more than a week after the blast. Rows of destroyed cars were still parked in front of damaged stores and demolished buildings.
Nagy Massoud, 70, was sitting on the balcony when the blast gutted his apartment. He was saved by a wooden door that protected him from flying debris. A stove injured his wife.
His pension is frozen in a bank account he cannot access due to capital controls prompted by the economic crisis.
“Where is the government,” he said, looking around his shattered apartment.