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Pope Francis on Monday called for an end to wars in the Middle East during the first visit by the head of the Catholic church to the birthplace of Islam, the Arabian Peninsula.

The pope was earlier accorded a royal welcome at Abu Dhabi's presidential palace. It featured horse-mounted guards escorting the pontiff's motorcade through the palace gardens while the flyover trailed the yellow and white smoke of the Vatican flag.

But if you're not one of the 135,000 Catholics who managed to secure a ticket, and traveled overnight to get to the stadium, you can still watch the Papal Mass in Abu Dhabi live.

The United Arab Emirates is deeply involved in the Saudi-led war in Yemen and faces widespread worldwide criticism for airstrikes killing civilians and the creation of the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

Yemen's war has triggered a catastrophic humanitarian crisis, with millions of people at risk of starvation. "It is as if Jesus is coming to my home", said Faisal Kheeran, who is originally from Pakistan and has lived in the UAE for almost a decade.

"We discussed enhancing cooperation, consolidating dialogue, tolerance, human coexistence and important initiatives to achieve peace, stability and development for peoples and societies", he tweeted.

Pope Francis in turn gave him a framed medallion of the meeting between St. Francis Assisi - the pope's namesake - and the Sultan of Egypt Malek al-Kamel, in 1219.

On Monday, the pope met with Emirate leaders and signed a joint declaration together with Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, the grand imam of Cairo's Al-Azhar University, condemning "acts of murder, exile, terrorism and oppression" carried out in God's name.

Also, there are numerous churches of other Christian denominations in the UAE, as well as a Sikh temple and a space for Jewish worship.

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Over one million Catholics reside across the UAE and 180,000 people had the rare opportunity to attend one of the few Papal Masses to take place outside Vatican City, but also the first-ever in the history of the region.

Rights groups have also slammed the Gulf state for upholding a 10-year prison term against activist Ahmed Mansoor on December 31 - two weeks after the UAE declared 2019 the "Year of Tolerance".

Pope Francis meanwhile is well known as an advocate for tolerance and the laying aside of differences and for his determined call for the pursuit of peace and fraternity among humanity, and the award recognises this continued commitment and approach.

"The population is exhausted by the lengthy conflict and a great many children are suffering from hunger, but can not access food depots", he said.

"The cry of these children and their parents rise up to God", he told followers in St Peter's Square.

The UAE, which prides itself on its religious diversity in the Gulf, is a member of the US-led coalition battling the Islamic State group in both Syria and Iraq.

The UAE is home to about 1 million Roman Catholics. Oman, Kuwait and Yemen each have four.

Meanwhile, many migrant workers - predominantly from South Asia, many of whom form a large part of the country's Christian population - continue to be vulnerable to forced labour inside the Gulf Kingdom, despite foreign nationals account for almost 90 percent of the UAE's population.


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