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22 February 2024

Historic mass of Pope Francis: Love, tolerance in the ‘Pearl of Stadiums’

Photo: AFP

By Wam

In the centre of Abu Dhabi stands the Zayed Sport City Stadium, a historic sporting venue that witnessed the successes of the federation and the creation of a nation that achieved glory with the arms of its children, until it became a model of overall excellence, accomplishment and pioneering.

Every year on 2nd December, the stadium hosts the UAE National Day celebrations, when the country’s leadership and people celebrate the accomplishments and renews the future ambitions and aspirations of a nation that does not accept anything other than the first place.

On 5th February, 2019, the "Pearl of Stadiums," the Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi, will again embrace history, by hosting the first papal mass in the region, led by His Holiness Pope Francis, Head of the Catholic Church, with the participation of 135,000 people from around the world.

In this report, the Emirates News Agency, WAM, will explain the history of the stadium, which will host this historic event.

On the dawn of the Federation on 2nd December, 1971, the construction of major infrastructure was announced, including a sporting arena. In 1974, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan aimed to make Abu Dhabi a modern sporting city through a three-stage plan. The first stage of the plan was to construct a sporting arena with a capacity of 60,000 spectators.

The stadium was completed in January 1980 and hosted the Gulf Cup in 1982. It subsequently hosted a series of major events, the latest of which are the AFC Asian Cup, UAE 2019, and the FIFA Club World Cup in 2018 and 2017.

The stadium also witnessed historic Emirati accomplishments written with letters of light, and in 2007, the UAE National Team made history by winning the Gulf Cup, after defeating Oman through a goal by Ismail Matar, who was also crowned, in the same stadium, with the title of "Best Player of the FIFA World Youth Championship," which was hosted by the UAE in 2003. The team also reached the final of the AFC Asian Cup in 1996.

The stadium is witness to the development of football in the UAE and became one of the major football stadiums in the region and the largest in the country. It was designed as a traditional open stadium, is famous for its unique external bows, features a large seating capacity and includes an external court for activities before events. It also features a series of fountains, a ring road, car parking, training courts and other facilities.

The stadium is continuing to witness major accomplishments, and not only in terms of sports, as it also hosts the UAE’s leading annual event, which is the country’s National Day celebrations.

Several members of the local Christian community who met with WAM on the sidelines of the AFC Asian Cup matches at the stadium expressed their pride and happiness at the country’s hosting of the historic mass of Pope Francis in Abu Dhabi. They also affirmed that the Pope’s historic visit is as a message of love from around the world to the UAE, and is an appreciation of its leading role in promoting dialogue between religions and spreading tolerance and peace around the world.

Abu Dhabi resident Albert Bishoy said that the UAE is the home of goodness and is a leading model of coexistence between various nationalities. Holding the historic event at the stadium is an international appreciation of the country’s unique approach to tolerance, he added.

Sanjo Joseph, also a resident of Abu Dhabi, stressed that he is looking forward to the historic mass of Pope Francis while pointing out that the visit is as a message of love from around the world to the UAE and is an appreciation of its approach to coexistence, peace and tolerance.

Pope Francis will conduct the mass in Zayed Sports City at 10:30 on 5th February, with the participation of over 135,000 people who are both UAE residents and visitors. The mass is expected to be one of the largest gatherings in the UAE’s history.