You are blessed. This was the simple but profound message Pope Francis brought to a crowd of some 180,000 on February 5, 2019, in his homily at Mass in Zayed Sports City in the kingdom of Abu Dhabi. It was a mostly expat crowd with workers in the United Arab Emirates hailing from more than 100 foreign countries. And it was an enthusiastic crowd.
“Blessed: this is the word with which Jesus begins his preaching in Matthew’s Gospel. And it is the refrain he repeats today, as if to fix in our hearts, more than anything, an essential message: if you are with Jesus, if you love to listen to his word as the disciples of that time did, if you try to live out this word every day, then you are blessed,” the Pope proclaimed. “Not you will be blessed, but you are blessed; this is the first truth we know about the Christian life. It is not simply a list of external prescriptions to fulfill or a set of teachings to know.
“The Christian life, first and foremost, is not this; rather, it is the knowledge that, in Jesus, we are the Father’s beloved children. The Christian life means living out the joy of this blessedness, wanting to live life as a love story, the story of God’s faithful love, he who never abandons us and wishes to be in communion with us always.”
The Holy Father reminded the faithful present that the joy of being a Christian cannot be taken from us, no matter what our circumstances. He cited the Beatitudes, in which those called blessed are not the rich and powerful but the poor, the meek, and those who are persecuted.
This is the reason for our joy, a joy that no one in the world and no circumstance in our lives can take from us. It is a joy that gives peace also in the midst of pain, a joy that already makes us participate in that eternal happiness which awaits us. Dear brothers and sisters, in the joy of meeting you, this is the word I have come to say to you: blessed!
“Who is correct here: Jesus or the world?” the Pope asked. And he answered: “To understand this, let us look at how Jesus lived: poor in respect to things, but wealthy in love; he healed so many lives but did not spare his own. He came to serve and not to be served; he taught us that greatness is not found in having but rather in giving.”
The Holy Father noted that “living out the Beatitudes does not require dramatic gestures.” He pointed out that Jesus left nothing written, built nothing imposing, and didn’t ask his followers to build great works or draw attention to themselves. He said those who follow the Beatitudes are the meek and those who are peacemakers.
“The Beatitudes are not for supermen, but for those who face up to the challenges and trials of each day,” Francis explained. “Those who live out the Beatitudes according to Jesus are able to cleanse the world. They are like a tree that even in the wasteland absorbs polluted air each day and gives back oxygen. It is my hope that you will be like this, rooted in Christ, in Jesus and ready to do good to those around you. May your communities be oases of peace.”
Pope Francis arrived at the Presidential Airport of Abu Dhabi where the farewell ceremony took place prior to leaving the United Arab Emirates. Upon arrival, the Pope was received by the Crown Prince, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
The Holy Father and the Crown Prince were then greeted by Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin; Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches; Cardinal Fernando Filoni, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples; H.E. Msgr. Edgar Peña Parra, substitute of the Secretariat of State; H.E. Msgr. Miguel Ángel Ayuso Guixot, M.C.C.J., secretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue; the United Arab Emirates delegation and local dignitaries. Pope Francis then boarded an Etihad B787 to return to Italy.
On Tuesday, the last day of his 40-hour visit to the United Arab Emirates, Pope Francis came to speak to them directly. “I have goose bumps,” said Khristina Garcia, a 32-year-old emergency room nurse from the Philippines who has lived in Abu Dhabi for five years. She was one of the roughly 135,000 Catholics, many of whom had received a state-sanctioned day off work, who filled the stands and surrounded Zayed Sports City Stadium on a warm and bright Tuesday afternoon. “I feel blessed,” she said.
The Mass, which was also attended by 4,000 Muslims in keeping with the visit’s emphasis on interreligious dialogue, was the largest public celebration of a Christian rite in the history of the Muslim country, where the worship of other faiths is tolerated, but only in private under normal circumstances.
Inside the stadium, tens of thousands of faithful clad in white hats bearing the trip’s emblem of a dove applauded as Francis rode around in his Popemobile.
The crowd at the Mass represented the asylum seekers and economic migrants Francis has spent years defending, but with a twist. “It is most certainly not easy for you to live far from home, missing the affection of your loved ones, and perhaps also feeling uncertainty about the future,” Francis said in his homily, which he delivered in Italian. “But the Lord is faithful and does not abandon his people.”
He sought to encourage the Christians here in their lives and faith, assuring them that if they continued on, the Lord would provide a way forward. “He can even open paths in the desert,” the pope said.