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Pope Francis holds historic public mass in UAE

Pope Francis arrives to hold a mass at Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday. Reuters

ABU DHABI: Pope Francis held a historic public mass for an estimated 170,000 Catholics at an Abu Dhabi stadium on Tuesday on the first ever papal visit to the Gulf.

The Pope waved at an enthusiastic crowd carrying Vatican flags and banners as he drove into Zayed Sports City Stadium, where an altar with a large cross was set up for the unprecedented open-air service in a country where worship is normally allowed only inside churches.

"How beautiful it is for brothers to be joined under this sky," said an MC in Arabic shortly after the Pope's arrival around 10:00 am (0600 GMT).

Inside the stadium, 50,000 Catholics with tickets to the mass cheered the Pope on, with one small group hoisting a pink posterboard which read "We the Catholics of Yemen love you!".