Papal visit: Pope Francis becomes first pontiff to visit Arabian Gulf - as it happened on Sunday

Pope Francis, on landing in Abu Dhabi, was welcomed by Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed and the Grand Imam of Al Azhar

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History was made on Sunday when Pope Francis, the leader of 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, touched down in Abu Dhabi. Here you will find live coverage of the Pope's visit from The National's reporters across the UAE, as it happens. All times UTC+4


00:10 Monday's live coverage

Please join us here for live coverage, including all the latest news, videos and photo galleries from The National's staff reporters as Pope Francis marks a historic day for inter-faith relations in Abu Dhabi on Monday.


00:10 World reaction

America's top diplomat, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, described the papal visit as "an historic moment for religious freedom".

"The first Holy Mass by a pope in the Arabian Peninsula promotes peace and understanding between two of the world’s great religions," he tweeted.


23:00 A proud moment for the UAE

The arrival of Pope Francis and Ahmed Al Tayeb, Grand Imam of Al Azhar is a proud moment for the UAE, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi said on Sunday night.

"The leadership and nation of the UAE are proud of this historic visit of two greatly respected religious figures," he tweeted, adding, "It embodies our belief in the values of love and tolerance as a pathway for humanity towards peace, security, stability and rapprochement between different people & culture."


22:20 Greeted by Sheikh Mohamed

Pope Francis was greeted at Abu Dhabi Presidential Airport by Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces.

The first pontiff to step foot in the Arabian Peninsula then met ministers and leaders from the UAE and Catholic leaders from the region.

In the presidential terminal, he also met Sheikh Saif bin Zayed, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior, Sheikh Hazza bin Zayed, Deputy Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Executive Council, Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, the UAE's Minister of Tolerance, and Noura Al Kaabi, Minister of Culture and Knowledge Development, among other senior figures.

He was also greeted by Ahmed Al Tayeb, Grand Imam of Al Azhar, Islam's most respected seat of learning.

Leaving the airport, Pope Francis was transported in a minibus flanked by a convoy of vehicles, where he will be taken to the Presidential Palace.


21:47 Francis lands

Pope Francis has landed in Abu Dhabi, beginning a historic three-day visit as the first pontiff to visit the Arabian Peninsula.

The pontiff's visit will be a landmark moment for interfaith relations in the region and a life-change experience for more than 130,000 Catholics who will attend a Mass he is due to celebrate on Tuesday.

In a message to the people of the UAE before his departure, Francis called the country a model for co-existence, praising the way people of all faiths and nationalities live together.

During his visit, he will attend an interfaith meeting at the Founder's Memorial and celebrate the Mass at Zayed Sports City.

While on board "Shepherd One" – the name given to the Pope's aircraft – Pope Francis greeted each journalist one by one, including The National's correspondent on board, Sofia Barbarani.


20:30 The first look inside Zayed Sports City, where Pope Francis will celebrate Mass


19:00 'Peace and Joy' to the people of Egypt

As the plane made its way to the UAE, a series of telegrams were sent to each country that "Shepherd One" – the call sign for any aircraft carrying the pope onboard – passed over, Sofia Barbarani reports from the Pope's Alitaia flight.

As the plane made its way over Egypt, the papal telegram read: "To his excellency Abdel Fattah Al Sisi. I extend cordial greetings to your excellency and the people of Egypt as I fly over your country on my way to the United Arab Emirates for a pastoral visit. Invoking the blessing of the almighty upon the nation, I pray that he may all grant you peace and joy."


18:45 Pope Francis greets journalists

As Pope Francis flies across the Mediterranean and above Egypt, Sofia Barbarani, The National's correspondent on board the pontiff's plane gives us a glimpse into the special flight.

"It'll be a brief trip," the Pope told journalists. "They told me it's raining in Abu Dhabi. This, in some places, is seen as a blessing, let's hope it goes this way."


16:40 Department of Transport announce road closures

The Abu Dhabi Department of Transport announced partial road closures on Monday and Tuesday, during the Pope's visit.

There will be a truck ban in Abu Dhabi island until Tuesday as well, the department said on its Twitter feed.


16:15 Pope Francis takes off for Abu Dhabi

Pope Francis' Alitalia flight to Abu Dhabi has taken on from Rome airport.

The pontiff is due to land in the UAE at 10pm local time, making history as he touches down.


16:00 On board the Pope's plane

From Vatican branded headrests to personalised menus and above-par dinner service, the Pope's Alitalia service to Abu Dhabi is full of suprises, as pictures from The National's correspondent on board, Sofia Barbarani show.


15:40 Boarding begins

Here's the aircraft the Pope - and press - will be travelling on from Rome to Abu Dhabi. We are now approximately 20 minutes from take off.


15:33 Visiting the UAE 'as a brother'


15:30 Pope Francis expresses concerns about humanitarian crisis in Yemen

The Pope has just spoken from the window of the Apostolic Palace at The Vatican, where he delivered the Angelus prayer.

This is what he had to say on Yemen:

"I've followed with great concern the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. The population is exhausted by the long conflict and many children are suffering from hunger, but are unable to access food supplies.

"The cry of these children and their parents rises to God. I call on the parties involved and the international community to urgently observe the agreements and assure the distribution of food and work for the good of the population. I invite everyone to pray for our brothers in Yemen.

"Let us pray strongly because they are children who are dying, who are thirsty, they don't have medicine and they are in danger of dying.

"In less than an hour I will be leaving for a brief but important trip to the UAE. Please, accompany me with your prayers."


15:05 Schools to close - announcement

Government schools and some private schools in Dubai and Sharjah will be closed on Monday, while all schools across the UAE will be closed on Tuesday, the UAE Ministry of Education has just announced.

Read more


13:55 Candle lit for children in Syria

On the eve of his landmark visit to the UAE, Pope Francis on Saturday lit a candle for the victims of conflict around the world, in particular the children of Syria, writes Sofia Barbarani.

“Let these flames of hope dispel the shadows of war,” said the pontiff.

Over the weekend throngs of visitors braced heavy rain to walk through St Peter’s square to visit the Vatican museums, as the Pope readied himself for his upcoming flight to Abu Dhabi later today.

As crowds milled around the imposing colonnade outside the Basilica, a queue of homeless men waited for their turn to use the Vatican bathrooms with showers set up by Pope Francis in 2014. The opening of the shower block came with the offer of free haircuts from volunteer barbers.

Augusto, 45, was laid off because of his epilepsy and says he’s been using the showers for years now. “It’s the most welcoming centre I’ve been to,” he said, holding an umbrella to shield himself from the rain.

Note: The rain has now stopped in Abu Dhabi and the skies have cleared.


Read more: Pope Francis' message to the UAE

Pope Francis hailed the UAE as a model of religious co-existence in a message to its residents.

In the video posted ahead of his arrival in Abu Dhabi, Pope Francis thanked UAE leaders for his invitation and praised the country for being a place where people of all faiths can live and work.


Preparations for the Pope's arrival - in pictures:


Pope Francis' schedule in full:

Sunday, February 3, 2019 - Rome to Abu Dhabi
1pm: departure by plane from Rome / Fiumicino to Abu Dhabi
10pm: arrival at Abu Dhabi Presidential Airport

Monday, February 4
12pm: welcome ceremony at the main entrance of the Presidential Palace
12.20pm: meets Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, at Presidential Palace
5pm: private meeting with Muslim Council of Elders at Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
6.10pm: Inter-religious meeting at the Founder's Memorial

Tuesday, February 5 - Abu Dhabi to Rome
9.15am: private visit to St Joseph's Cathedral
10.30am: public mass at Zayed Sports City – with a homily by Pope Francis
12.40pm: farewell at Abu Dhabi Presidential Airport
1pm: departure by plane to Rome
5pm: arrival at the Rome / Ciampino International Airport