ABU DHABI - Tens of thousands of Catholics and several thousand Muslims attended an unprecedented public celebration of Mass on Tuesday by Pope Francis, the first pontiff in history to visit the Arabian Peninsula.

More than 120,000 worshippers packed Zayed Sports City stadium and its surroundings in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, to see the pope, who is in the Gulf country to promote inter-faith dialogue.

The UAE hosts about half of the two million expatriate Catholics living on the peninsula, home to the birthplace of Islam in neighbouring Saudi Arabia. The community includes large numbers of people from the Philippines and India.

“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,” the pope said, telling those gathered to draw inspiration from Saint Anthony the Abbot, the founder of monasticism in the desert.

“The Lord specializes in doing new things; he can even open paths in the desert,” he said at the end of a trip where he met with the grand imam of Egypt’s Al-Azhar mosque and UAE leaders.

Francis entered the stadium in a white open top jeep to roars from the crowd. People wearing white baseball caps emblazoned with the visit logo packed the stadium stands and snapped pictures on their smartphones.(FA)