As I write, Pope Francis is spending his first and only full day in the UAE – the United Arab Emirates, a federation of 7 states on the southern coast of the Persian Gulf.
The first Pope ever to visit the Emirates, he arrived at 10 pm local time Sunday night – the UAE is 3 hours ahead of Rome – and will be back in Rome tomorrow, Tuesday February 5. The theme of the 27th foreign apostolic trip is, ‘Make Me a Channel of Your Peace’.
Pope Francis a short while ago concluded his talk to the International Interfaith Meeting on Human Fraternity organized by the Muslim Council of Elders (see summary below). The working sessions focus on how different religions can work together to help build peace, especially in places where religion had been a source of conflict
The highlight of this trip will be the papal Mass tomorrow morning, February 5, at Abu Dhabi’s Zayed Sports City, which some 135,000 people are expected to attend. A multinational 120-member choir comprising of singers from 9 churches of the UAE has been formed to sing at the papal Mass. Members are from among 283 singers from 120 church choirs who appeared for auditions.
The Catholic Church on the Arabian Peninsula is divided into two vicariates – the Apostolic Vicariate for Northern Arabia (Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar) and the Apostolic Vicariate for Southern Arabia – The UAE, Oman and Yemen. The Southern vicariate is hosting the papal visit.
Both the Vicariates have been placed under the protection of Our Lady of Arabia.
There are no native Christians on the Arabian peninsula. The 3 million Catholics in a population of 65 million inhabitants are all labor migrants from 100 nations, the majority from the Philippines and India. About 80% of the Catholics are of Latin Rite.
In Saudi Arabia and Yemen, by contrast, churches are not permitted and all worship must be done privately.
POPE IN UAE: HUMBLE SHEPHERD RECEIVES THE WELCOME OF A KING
Pope Francis was welcomed in grand style on his first day in the United Arab Emirates. Our correspondent in Abu Dhabi gives her impressions on the ground.
By Linda Bordoni – Abu Dhabi
Say what you like about the opulence, but one thing is for sure: the Emiratis know how to put on a welcome ceremony and Pope Francis was certainly treated to the full shebang.
I could see it coming: having lived in Italy for many years I can say I am quite accustomed to the beauty of Carrara marble and exquisite art work, but never have I seen such a lavish use of precious marble, crystal chandeliers, towering domes, and gold decorations of all shapes and sizes.
Such a historic visit as this, along with the attention of the international media, provides a unique occasion to show the world how guests are welcomed and pampered in the United Arab Emirates.
For days the acrobatic pilots of a special air team practiced their aerial acrobatics above the bay. Today, they greeted Pope Francis from above, spurting trails of yellow and white smoke in honour of the Vatican colours.
The papal motorcade itself was accompanied by over a dozen horsemen on beautiful Arab stallions. They made their way through perfectly manicured lawns and wide avenues carrying Vatican and UAE flags.
Message of love and solidarity
I asked a UAE media person why there was no one lining the roads to greet Francis as he travelled through a deserted landscape: “Because it is all happening inside the sprawling Presidential Palace grounds” he answered, which cover an area of 150 hectares.
The majestic Arabian-style white palace itself boasts over 70 mosaic, glass, and golden domes. The handles on the doors of the grandiose entrance are four metres high, and the doors themselves are so heavy they function thanks to a system similar to that of a hydro-electric dam.
We all know that Pope Francis is not one for luxury and riches, but he will surely make the most of this kind of attention to boost his energy and speak powerfully to all who want to hear his message of love and solidarity for those in need.
We can only guess how loud his words will echo through these marble corridors, but I am sure the breeze of the Arabian Gulf will carry them into the peripheries of the peninsula and much further abroad.
CLICK HERE a GREAT PHOTO SLIDESHOW AT END OF STORY: https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2019-02/pope-francis-uae-official-welcome-of-king.html
POPE AT UAE INTERRELIGIOUS MEETING: DIALOGUE AND PRAYER FOR PEACE
Pope Francis addresses the Human Fraternity Meeting at the Founder’s Memorial in Abu Dhabi on Monday, and confirms how, “God is with those who seek peace”.
By Seán-Patrick Lovett
Monday’s Interreligious Meeting took place within the context of the Global Conference of Human Fraternity, currently underway in Abu Dhabi. The Conference has brought together hundreds of religious leaders and scholars. It is dedicated to examining interfaith dialogue, religious freedom, combatting extremism, and promoting peace.
All of these themes were present in Pope Francis’ discourse, which he delivered at the Founder’s Memorial, before some of the highest authorities in the United Arab Emirates, and members of the Diplomatic Corps.
Pope Francis began by describing himself as “a believer thirsting for peace”.
Speaking about the Interreligious Meeting itself, the Pope continued: “We are here to desire peace, to promote peace, to be instruments of peace”.
The Ark of Fraternity
Referencing the biblical story of Noah, the Pope suggested that, in order to safeguard peace, we too “need to enter together as one family into an ark which can sail the stormy seas of the world”. This means acknowledging, “God is at the origin of the one human family”. “No violence can be justified in the name of religion”, he said.
“Religious behavior”, said Pope Francis, “needs continually to be purified from the recurrent temptation to judge others as enemies and adversaries”. The “perspective of heaven”, he said, “embraces persons without privilege or discrimination”.
Expressing his “appreciation” for the commitment of the United Arab Emirates “to tolerating and guaranteeing freedom of worship, to confronting extremism and hatred”, the Pope then posed the question: “How do we look after each other in the one human family?”
The Courage of Otherness
Pope Francis proposed what he called “the courage of otherness”: recognizing the freedom and fundamental rights of others. “Without freedom”, he said, “we are no longer children of the human family, but slaves”.
Religious freedom, he continued, is not just freedom of worship: it means seeing the other as “a child of my own humanity whom God leaves free, and whom no human institution can coerce, not even in God’s name”.
Dialogue and Prayer
Pope Francis then turned to the importance of dialogue and prayer. Prayer, he said, “purifies the heart from turning in on itself. Prayer of the heart restores fraternity”.
Encouraging religions to “exert themselves with courage and audacity” in building paths of peace: “We will either build the future together”, he said, “or there will be no future”.
Education and Justice
In order to fly, continued Pope Francis, peace requires “the wings of education and justice”. Investing in culture, he said, “encourages a decrease of hatred and a growth of civility and prosperity”, because “education and violence are inversely proportional”.
The Pope again encouraged religious leaders to be “the voice of the least”, to “stand on the side of the poor”, to be “vigilant warnings to humanity not to close our eyes in the face of injustice”.
The desert that flourishes
Using the image of the “desert that surrounds us”, Pope Francis spoke of the United Arab Emirates as “an important crossroads” between East and West, North and South.
While praising the way the “desert has flourished” and become what he called “a place of development”, the Pope also warned of the “indifference” that risks converting “flourishing realities into desert lands”.
Pope Francis provided examples of this indifference in failing to “care about the future of creation”, or “about the dignity of the stranger”. A fraternal “living together, founded on education and justice, a human development built upon a welcoming inclusion and on the rights of all: these are the seeds of peace which the world’s religions are called to help flourish”.
Demilitarizing the human heart
Pope Francis concluded with a criticism of the arms race and an appeal to “demilitarize the human heart”.
“War cannot create anything but misery”, he said. “Its fateful consequences are before our eyes”. Here, the Pope mentioned specifically “Yemen, Syria, Iraq, and Libya”.
“Our being together today is a message of trust”, said the Pope, not to “surrender to the floods of violence and the desertification of altruism. God is with those who seek peace”.
PRESS OFFICE DIRECTOR ON FRATERNITY DOCUMENT
Interim press office director Alessandro Gisotti made the following statement about the Fraternity document signed this evening in Abu Dhabi:
The Document on “Human Fraternity for world peace and living together”, signed by the Pope and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, represents an important step forward in the dialogue between Christians and Muslims and is a powerful sign of peace and hope for the future of humanity. The Document is a vibrant appeal to respond with good to evil, to reinforce interreligious dialogue and to promote mutual respect in order to block the road to those who add fuel to the fire of the clashes between civilizations.
At Abu Dhabi, Francis and Al-Tayyib have together indicated a way of peace and reconciliation on which not only Christians and Muslims can walk, but all people of good will.
The Document is courageous and prophetic because it confronts, and calls by name, the most urgent issues of our day on which those who believe in God are encouraged to question their own conscience and to confidently assume their own responsibility so as to give life to a more just and united world. With unambiguous words, the Pope and the Grand Imam declare that no one is ever authorized to exploit God’s name to justify war, terrorism or any other form of violence.
In addition, they affirm that life must always be safeguarded and, at the same time, that the rights of women are to be fully recognized, and every discriminatory practice in their regard rejected.
Before humanity, wounded by so many divisions and ideological fanaticisms, the Pontiff and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar demonstrate that promoting a culture of encounter is not a utopia, but is the necessary condition for living in peace and leaving for future generations a better world than the one in which we live.