The Roman Catholic community has been urged not to compete for tickets to attend Pope Francis’s historic Mass in the UAE.
The Catholic Church has released details of how tickets will be distributed for the event at Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi on February 5.
Although 120,000 people will witness the Mass in person, Paul Hinder, Catholic Bishop for southern Arabia, said many more would inevitably be unable to attend.
There are one million Catholics in the UAE, but tickets are being sent to parishes throughout the region.
Most places will be reserved for Catholics but there is also expected to be a large government delegation at the Mass, and Muslim religious leaders will also be in attendance. The visit is part of a drive to promote tolerance between people of different faiths.
Bishop Hinder said that since the visit was announced last month, church leaders had been working behind the scenes to devise a system that would distribute tickets “in the most just way” in light of the limited capacity.
He called on the faithful to "avoid every kind of competition and self-promotion" ahead of the visit. Those unable to attend will be able to watch the Mass via live streaming that will be broadcast to churches.
“Although it will not be possible to satisfy all the wishes given the short time of the papal visit, we have tried to do our best given the limits of time and space,” Bishop Hinder said in an open letter to Catholics.
“People here in the country and in the Middle East and even around the world will follow the event. Let us make it a moment of spiritual witness of our deep faith and our love for and within the Catholic Church, but also of our spirit of peace and understanding towards those who are of other faiths.
“Therefore, it is crucial that we avoid every kind of competition and self-promotion. As a Catholic migrant church in a Muslim country, we are called to give witness to unity, respect and mutual love and at the same time show humility.”
Several committees have been set up to plan for the Pope's visit to the UAE. The ticket update and letter were issued in response to a deluge of enquiries about the visit, which will take place between between February 3-5.
Free tickets are being distributed to parishes based on their size, and will be given out "with the aim to ensure as much a broad representation as possible".
Most will be sent to parishes in southern Arabia parishes, which include the UAE, Oman and Yemen. A smaller number will go to northern Arabia parishes, which include Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar. A "very limited" number of tickets will be available to people outside the GCC. Distribution details will follow soon. Tickets are expected to reach parishes around January 20.
The Church has also warned Catholics to be on their guard against fraud, especially if people offer tickets for sale or through unofficial channels.
“Many of the faithful are eagerly waiting for the day when Pope Francis will celebrate the Holy Mass at the stadium in Zayed Sports City in Abu Dhabi,” Bishop Hinder said.
“As the capacity of the stadium [inside and outside] is limited we have had to work out a system to distribute the tickets in the most just way.
“First of all, the faithful of our vicariate have the priority. In line with this, we decided to choose a system of registration per parish, each of which will receive a quota of seats according to the presumed size of the parish. Parishes will receive detailed information from the respective committee with the instructions on how to proceed.
"The parish priests will let you know through the communication channels of each parish how the registration will work during the coming days.
“It is obvious that many will not receive the opportunity to join the papal Mass in Abu Dhabi. Preparations are made so that the whole liturgy can be followed via the website on live stream. You will be able to be part of the celebration not only on your computer but in each parish church.”
In a statement, the Church advised Catholics: "All are requested to follow the guidelines offered by the UAE Government and the UAE Papal Visit Office."