UAE Catholics inspired by Pope Francis' message in Lisbon

The pontiff told young worshippers not to be afraid to 'change the world' during his speech on World Youth Day

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Pope Francis's call for young Catholics not to be afraid and to spread love has resonated with worshippers and priests who travelled from the UAE to Portugal to listen to him speak.

About 300 young Catholics from the Emirates were among 1.5 million people who gathered in Lisbon to be part of the papal mass on World Youth Day on Sunday.

Pope Francis urged the young congregation to follow their dreams and not be afraid to fail.

“As young people, you want to change the world, and it is good you want to change the world and work for justice and peace,” the pontiff said.

It was a moment of pride for us when the UAE flag was carried in the welcome ceremony with the other flags of the world
Keegan Silveira

“The Church and the world need you, the young, as much as the earth needs rain. Do not be afraid.”

Amanda Laura, a finance associate at an oil and gas firm in Abu Dhabi, said she had been touched by his words.

“He told us that we should be fearless, and I think that really applies to my generation,” said the 25-year-old, who was born in the UAE.

“I needed to hear that. I want to be confident, do not want to be scared and always doubtful. The main thing he kept saying is ‘not to be afraid’.”

Ms Laura said his words were important to young people who require emotional and spiritual support.

“A lot of us feel lost, don’t know how to seek guidance,” she said.

“He spoke of how the one thing that is free in this world is the love of God – that really touched me. We need to embrace that message about love.”

Ms Laura was excited to see the Pope up close as his vehicle moved past the faithful who had gathered in a field in Lisbon.

“It was the most memorable moment to see him so close,” she said.

“There was a huge crowd so I thought we would only see him on the projectors. But before going to the stage, he moved around, waved and gave us his blessings.”

Place for everyone

The Pope also talked about inclusion and insisted that everyone had a place in the church.

Bishop Paolo Martinelli, the Apostolic Vicar for Southern Arabia, said the words of inclusion had echoed with the young.

“It is a great moment when one breathes a great sense of universality and hope,” Bishop Martinelli said.

“Young people are the present of the church, which opens up to the future. Young people are the future of society and the world. To face the future with courage, great hope is needed.

“The young people who meet on World Youth Day recognise God's love and that God is the foundation to build a future of peace and solidarity.

Bishop Martinelli said the event also gave UAE residents the chance to talk about the country they call home.

“Our young people who come from the Emirates have a great opportunity to share their particular life experiences,” he said.

“They are grateful for being welcomed into this nation where tolerance, peace and coexistence between people of different faiths and religions are advocated.”

Moment of pride

The group of Catholic expatriates said they were proud to see the UAE flag in a procession that accompanied Pope Francis to the stage.

Keegan Silveira, 35, an advertising executive in Dubai, said other travellers had asked for more information about practising one’s faith in the UAE.

“It was a moment of pride for us when the UAE flag was carried in the welcome ceremony with the other flags of the world,” he said.

“There were several flags like the UAE flag in the procession that people did not recognise and wanted to know more about.

“They were very surprised with the concept of the Abrahamic House.

“They would ask how we were able to live our faith in an Arab country.

“They were surprised about the safety, security and the freedom we have to practice our faith.

“We told them that was the beautiful thing about Dubai, Abu Dhabi, the UAE.”

Abu Dhabi’s Abrahamic Family House is seen as a unifying force and is home to a mosque, church and synagogue.

Pope John Paul II launched World Youth Day in the 1980s to inspire the next generation of Catholics, and it is a tradition that is repeated every four years.

Seoul will host the 2027 edition, the first time in more than three decades that the event will be held in Asia.

Updated: August 08, 2023, 3:00 AM