Abu Dhabi: Pope Francis arrived in UAE to participate in a conference on interreligious dialogue organized by the Emirates-based Muslim Council of Elders, an initiative that seeks to counter religious fanaticism by promoting a moderate brand of Islam. It’s the brainchild of Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, the grand imam of Egypt’s Al-Azhar, the revered 1,000-year-old seat of Sunni Islam that trains clerics and scholars from around the world.
Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, received Pope Francis on his arrival to the UAE. Global Conference of Human Fraternity opened in Abu Dhabi on Sunday where 700 leaders, religious leaders, thinkers, intellectuals and representatives of 10 different faiths to discuss the critical importance of fraternity and peaceful coexistence.
Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan through is twitter account said we are honored to welcome our state guests, Pope Francis Head of the Catholic Church & Dr Ahmad Al Tayyeb Grand Imam of Al Azhar Al Sharif. The flourishing of love, tolerance is a tribute to this blessed land and Sheikh Zayed’s vision of the UAE as an oasis of human coexistence.
During his three-day visit, around 135,000 Catholics are expected to attend the papal mass on February 5, which has been declared a public holiday for those attending the event at Zayed Sports City Stadium. The pontiff’s visit to Abu Dhabi adds a new page to the UAE’s history of tolerance toward people of different religions and cultures.
On the occasion Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan through is twitter account said we are honored to welcome our state guests, Pope Francis Head of the Catholic Church & Dr Ahmad Al Tayyeb Grand Imam of Al Azhar Al Sharif. The flourishing of love, tolerance is a tribute to this blessed land and Sheikh Zayed’s vision of the UAE as an oasis of human coexistence.
In a video message to the Emirates on the eve of his trip, Francis paid homage to his “friend and dear brother” el-Tayeb and praised his courage in calling the meeting to assert that “God unites and doesn’t divide.” “I am pleased with this meeting offered by the Lord to write, on your dear land, a new page in the history of relations among religions and confirm that we are brothers despite our differences,” Francis said.
The leadership & nation of the UAE are proud of this historic visit of two greatly respected religious figures. It embodies our belief in the values of love & tolerance as a pathway for humanity towards peace, security, stability & rapprochement between different people & culture, he added.
In a statement Saturday, Al-Azhar described the upcoming meeting as “historic” and praised the “deeply fraternal relationship” between its imam and the pope, which it said even, includes birthday greetings.
Francis and el-Tayeb are to address the “Human Fraternity Meeting” Monday that has drawn not only Christian and Muslim representatives but hundreds of Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist and other Christian faith leaders. It’s all part of the Emirates’ “Year of Tolerance” and its effort to show its openness to other faiths in a region otherwise known for severe restrictions on religions outside of Islam.
“It’s something new for the Muslim world, that within the discussion of dialogue, they’re talking about interreligious dialogue across the board,” beyond basic Christian-Muslim relations, said Marco Impagliazzo, president of the Sant’Egidio Community, a Rome-based Catholic organization active in interfaith relations who will be attending the conference.
Of the over 9 million people now living in the UAE, around 1 million are Emirati while the rest are foreigners drawn to the oil-rich federation to work in everything from white-collar finance to construction.
The Catholic Church believes there are some 1 million Catholics in the UAE. Most are Filipino and Indian, many of whom have left behind families for work and can face precarious labor conditions, which human rights groups regularly denounce. “The church has a unique role because it becomes home,” said Brandon Vaidyanathan, chair of the sociology department at Catholic University in Washington, who grew up in Dubai. “It becomes a place of belonging” in a country where foreigners can live, work and practice their faith but will never gain citizenship.
Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti said the reason was to give greater emphasis to his speech to the interfaith conference. He dodged a question about whether Francis would raise Yemen’s yearslong war in his private talks with the Emirates’ ruler. The UAE is deeply involved in the Saudi-led war in the Arab world’s poorest country, where tens of thousands have been killed and millions face food and medical shortages.
“I don’t know if the Holy Father will confront it publicly or privately, but certainly on many occasions, even recently, he has underlined the need to search for peace in particular to guarantee the humanitarian rights of the population, especially children,” Gisotti said. Aid groups working in Yemen hope Francis won’t just rely on his public appeals, but will use his visit to bring his message to the Emirati leadership in person.
CAFOD, the overseas aid group of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, recently joined a coalition of British humanitarian organizations in appealing for Yemen’s limited cease-fire to hold so that humanitarian aid can reach the most vulnerable. “We have confidence in the greatness of the pope to be our advocate and the advocate for the Yemeni people,” said Giovanna Reda, CAFOD’s head of humanitarian programs for the Middle East.