Pope Francis' UAE trip a historic milestone

06 February, 2019, 08:56 | Author: Sue Mclaughlin
  • Pope Francis celebrates a holy mass as part of the 23rd World Day for Consecrated Life

The United Arab Emirates borders Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, but unlike its larger neighbor, which outlaws all non-Muslim places of worship, Abu Dhabi allows Christians among its large migrant workforce to practice their faith discreetly.

While religious freedom is not absolute in the emirate, the UAE interferes little in the private activities of religious minorities, and non-Muslims in the country enjoy a climate of tolerance.

Tuesday, 5 February 2019, is D-Day for Catholics who live and work in the seven sheikhdoms that make up the United Arab Emirates, and beyond. 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.

During the interreligious conference and even the large mass in Abu Dhabi, the pope spoke of Saint Francis and his instructions on how his brethren were to approach Saracens and non-Christians: "At that time, as many people were setting out, heavily armed, Saint Francis pointed out that Christians set out armed only with their humble faith and concrete love". It is his first visit to the Arabian Peninsula.

The Catholic Church estimates as many as 1 million of the over 9 million living in the UAE are Catholic, almost all of them foreigners drawn to the oil-rich federation to work in everything from white-collar finance to construction.

Asian nationals makeup about 65 percent of the population and are crucial to all sectors in the Gulf state, from construction to services and hotels.

Pope Francis, the son of Italian immigrants and raised in Argentina, has also made caring for migrants and refugees a key focus of his papacy.

The stadium itself could only fit 50,000 spectators, with up to 120,000 watching via a video link outside.

Sheikh Mohammed said on Monday that UAE rulers were "delighted" to meet the pontiff "in our homeland of tolerance".

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In a wide-ranging speech, the Pope also mentioned the sexual abuse scandal which has embroiled the Catholic Church for decades, praising a November meeting held in Abu Dhabi on child dignity in the digital world.

Pope Francis, who is on a historic three-day trip to the United Arab Emirates, told the crowd of Catholics and Muslims to take inspiration from Saint Anthony the Abbot, the founder of monasticism in the desert.

Emirati leader Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed declared 2019 the "Year of Tolerance" to show the UAE as a "global capital for tolerance".

At an interfaith meeting in Abu Dhabi on Monday, the pope called for an end to wars including in Yemen.

Highlighting conflicts in regions such as Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Libya, the pontiff said: "God is with those who seek peace".

The UAE supports Saudi Arabia's war in Yemen, which has caused the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

The Grand Imam, the most senior Muslim figure taking part in the visit, called on Muslims in the Middle East to "embrace" local Christian communities, describing them as part of the nation and not a minority.

"I look forward to societies where people of different beliefs have the same right of citizenship and where only in the case of violence in any of its forms is that right removed", he said.

Pope Francis spoke alongside Sheik Ashamed el-Tayeb, the grand imam of Egypt's Al-Azhar, the 1,000 year old seat of Sunni Islam.

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