Pope Francis has returned to Rome and, though I’ve not seen confirmation as I write, I’m sure he stopped off at St, Mary Major Basilica to pray, as he always does before and after a trip, before the image of Mary, noted to Romans as Salus populi romani.
He surely is tired after a hectic and very brief time in the UAE, the long flight back to Rome and the traditional on board press conference but Francis is scheduled to preside tomorrow morning at the weekly general audience.
POPE IN UAE: ‘TOGETHER, WE BUILD OUR FUTURE’
Pope Francis on Tuesday wrapped up his Apostolic Visit to the United Arab Emirates, and our correspondent in Abu Dhabi reflects on the historic occasion. (vaticannews)
By Linda Bordoni – Abu Dhabi
As soon as I looked at the programme for Pope Francis’ visit to the United Arab Emirates, I categorized it as a two-fold affair: day one for meeting the Muslim world and pursuing inter-religious dialogue; day two for being with Catholics and affirming them in their faith.
That’s what it looked like on paper, with Monday unfolding in an Arabian Palace, a Mosque, and at an interfaith Conference. And Tuesday started with a visit to Abu Dhabi’s Catholic Cathedral and ended with the celebration of Holy Mass in the presence of 180,000 people.
But no sooner had Pope Francis boarded the papal plane taking him back home to the Vatican, my perception of this intense, whirlwind visit, began to change.
One plea for everyone’s ears
There was no division, I realised, between day one and day two. He was not speaking separately to Muslims and then to Catholics. His vision and his mission are – as always – for one human family, and his plea to build a future together “or there will be no future”, was for everyone’s ears.
Someone who never tires of condemning divisiveness, separation, and the erection of barriers of every kind would never perpetrate that kind of mistake!
In fact, at all moments and in all occasions, the first-ever meeting of a Pope with the peoples of the UAE took place in a joyful atmosphere of mutual respect.
The solemnity of the historic occasion was felt by all, as was a palpable gratitude towards the Crown Prince of the UAE for issuing the invitation and towards Pope Francis for accepting it.
The pledge and the message
Of course, many important words were spoken. A pledge of fraternity between a Pope and a Grand Imam was signed to work together in perpetuity and to reject violence and radicalism. The Pope’s own Catholic flock was reminded it is never alone with Jesus at its side.
But at the heart of Pope Francis’ pilgrimage was an urgent reminder to all – no one excluded – that we are called to look after each other as one human family.
The visit will undoubtedly go down in the books as a milestone in Catholic-Muslim relations. But I was in Abu Dhabi for the occasion, and will never forget that over-arching cry for justice, fraternity, and an end to human misery.
Click here for some video highlights of the papal trip: https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2019-02/pope-francis-uae-highlights-video.html#play
CHRISTIANS IN UAE: A LITTLE TREE THAT RESTORES OXYGEN
Pope Francis offers a “re-reading” of the Beatitudes during the celebration of Mass at the conclusion of his brief visit to Abu Dhabi.
By Andrea Tornielli
Seeing them gathered together in the Zayed Sports City Stadium, the “little flock” of Emirati Christians did not seem so little, as Pope Francis told them that living the evangelical Beatitudes did not consist in grand gestures. Although Jesus left no writings of His own, and did not build anything imposing, His very life showed that the Christian faith plays out in the actions of everyday life, and in “littleness.”
Christians are not called to perform great works or accomplish striking, extraordinary, superhuman acts. It is in the extraordinariness of the ordinary that they bear witness. It is thanks to the holiness of everyday life, without extraordinary signs, that the most surprising miracles occur. Thus Christianity flourishes, is communicated by osmosis, without need of marketing strategies, media cleverness, torrents of words, or the abilities of supermen.
The Beatitudes, turning worldly criteria on their head, “invite us keep our hearts pure, to practice meekness and justice despite everything, to be merciful to all, to live affliction in union with God.” It is like a tree, Pope Francis explained, in dry land – like that of the desert that characterises this region of the world – which every day absorbs the polluted air and restores oxygen.
The invitation to this “little flock” of Christians in the UAE is to continue to be an oasis of peace, of meekness, and of mercy – because it is the person who responds to accusations with meekness, who is blessed, rather than the one that attacks or desires to oppress others. The one who considers others as brothers and sisters is blessed, and not the one who sees only enemies.
Pope Francis points to the example of St. Francis of Assisi who, instructing the friars who were leaving for Arab lands, asked them not to quarrel or argue, but to be “subject to every human creature for love of God”, confessing to being Christians. In an age, like today, in which many people clothe themselves in armour (perhaps only virtual), the Pope recalled that Christians set out “armed only with their humble faith and concrete love.” Because the Christian lives only on these, and knows that today it is only by means of this witness that the Gospel is proclaimed. (Analysis by vaticannews)
SAINT FRANCIS AND THE SULTAN
Andrea Tornielli in his last paragraph in the previous article, speaks of St. Francis and his friars in Arab lands, and I found a fascinating story precisely about that visit 800 years ago by Fr. Jack Wintz, OFM on the Franciscan webpage:
FRANCISCANS AND MUSLIMS: EIGHT CENTURIES OF SEEKING GOD
Franciscans and Muslims encountered one another during the lifetime of Saint Francis (1181-1226). Indeed, he sent friars to the Holy Land in 1217. Two years later, Crusaders fought Muslim soldiers at Damietta, Egypt, near the mouth of the Nile. At considerable risk, Saint Francis engaged Sultan Malik al-Kamil, their leader, in peaceful dialogue.
What follows is a brief description of that encounter, based on accounts written soon afterward. The Christian and Muslim armies stood opposite each other at close quarters. The sultan had decreed that anyone who brought him the head of a Christian should be rewarded with a gold piece. Francis, however, the knight of Christ, was unafraid and hoped to realize his ambition of dying as a martyr for Christ. Friar Illuminatus accompanied him.
The Muslim soldiers seized them fiercely and dragged them before the sultan. When he asked why they were sent and by whom, Francis replied courageously that they had been sent by God, not by man, to show him and his subjects the way of salvation and to proclaim the truth of the gospel message. Francis proclaimed the triune God and Jesus Christ, the savior of all, with steadfastness, courage and spirit.
When the sultan saw the little friar’s enthusiasm and courage, he listened to him willingly and pressed him to stay with him. Then he offered Francis a number of valuable gifts, but the saint was anxious only for the salvation of souls and refused the sultan’s gifts. The sultan, astonished at Francis’ utter disregard for worldly wealth, felt greater respect than ever for the saint. (In fact, Francis accepted an ivory horn that is displayed in Assisi’s Basilica of St. Francis.)
Bishop Jacques de Vitry, who was a contemporary of Francis, wrote that the sultan “had Francis led back to [the Christian] camp with many signs of honor and with security precautions, but not without saying to him: ‘Pray to God for me, that God may reveal to me the law and the faith that is more pleasing to him.’” (These texts are from Saint Bonaventure’s Life of St. Francis and from Jacques de Vitry’s History of the Orient in St. Francis of Assisi: Omnibus of Sources, St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2008.)