Pope arrives in the UAE in landmark visit

Charlene Craig
February 7, 2019

"War can not create anything but misery, weapons bring nothing but death", he said in a speech after meeting UAE leaders in the capital Abu Dhabi yesterday, the first full day of a trip he hopes will foster peace through religious dialogue.

Pope Francis' historic visit to Abu Dhabi is a significant step toward breaking the barriers of extremism and is in line with the country's message of promoting co-existence and tolerance, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Anwar Gargash, said on Monday.

About 135,000 Catholics attended the mass on Tuesday with some carrying Vatican flags and banners as the pope drove into Zayed Sports City Stadium, where an altar with a large cross was set up for the open-air service.

"I am greatly inspired by the powerful faith and determination of Christians in the UAE who have established a remarkable 700 Christian churches and ministries throughout the country", Perkins said in a statement. He also called for greater cooperation between Christians and Muslims.

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.

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The pope was expected to raise the issue of Yemen, devastated by a war in which the UAE is a key player, in talks with Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed.

Pope Francis, the leader of the Catholic Church, and Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, the head of Sunni Islam's most renowned seat of learning, arrived at the ceremony in Abu Dhabi hand-in-hand in a symbol of interfaith fraternity, reports The Guardian.

Gargash pointed out the difference "between those hosting a cleric of violence and terrorism. and those who host the pope and the Al-Azhar sheikh for a dialogue of love and communication".

His itinerary for the three-day visit included a meeting with Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, at the Presidential Palace.

Hours before he flies back to Rome on Tuesday, the pope will lead a mass at a stadium in the capital.

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The visit takes place in the shadow of the war in Yemen, the poorest Arabian Peninsula nation, where the UAE military has a leading role in a Saudi-led coalition fighting on the side of the internationally recognised Yemeni government that was ousted by the Houthi group.

Report says the Vatican estimates that there are about 900,000 Catholics in the country.

Priests and diplomats describe the UAE as one of the most open environments in the Gulf for Christian worship.

Pope Francis has become the first pope in history to visit the Arabian Peninsula, the birthplace of Islam.

The Catholic pope's first visit to the Gulf seems to be an attempt to harmonise the strained relations between the catholic leadership and the Muslim world.

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More than 85 percent of the UAE population are expatriates, and about 10 per cent of the population, which make for 1 million in number.

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