Important moments from the Pope’s visit to the UAE
Pope Francis’ trip to the United Arab Emirates was a delicate journey: the first Pope in the Arabian peninsula, the birthplace of Islam and a region mired in religious and geopolitical conflicts.
But the Pope did not shirk the weight of his moral duty to speak out on behalf of the innocent in Yemen, of immigrant workers without citizenship, of religious minorities without full freedoms.
It was Pope Francis’ seventh visit to a predominantly Muslim country, signaling a continuation of the Vatican’s aim of improving ties between Catholics and the Islamic world.
Here are some of the most important moments from Francis’ 40-hour trip to the United Arab Emirates.
From the window at the Vatican on Sunday, just an hour before leaving for the United Arab Emirates, a country helping Saudi Arabia fight a war in Yemen, Pope Francis called on those involved to respect international peace accords.
“Let us pray loudly,” Francis said, “because there are children that are hungry, are thirsty, don’t have medicine and their lives are in danger.”
The Pope was greeted at the airport by Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and the Pope and the Prince met in private discussions.
While it is unknown whether the Pope raised the issue with the Crown Prince, the emirate’s Minister of State for Foregin Affairs, Anwar Gargash, said in a tweet that he “welcomed” the pontiff’s prayer, calling on 2019 to be “the year of peace” in Yemen.
The Pope returned to the topic of Yemen in his speech Monday night at the Founder’s Memorial, when he spoke about the “miserable crudeness” of war.
“Human fraternity requires of us, as representatives of the world’s religions, the duty to reject every nuance of approval from the word ‘war,'” the Pope said.
“I am thinking particularly of Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Libya,” Francis said.
Citizenship for Christians
“I look forward to societies where people of different beliefs have the same right of citizenship,” Francis said to a gathering of religious and political leaders, touching on a sensitive question for his host country as well as the rest of the Middle East.
Citizenship was also mentioned in a joint declaration signed by the Pope and Ahmed el-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of Egypt-based Al-Azhar, one of Sunni Islam’s most important centers of scholarship.
“The concept of citizenship is based on the equality of rights and duties, under which all enjoy justice. It is therefore crucial to establish in our societies the concept of full citizenship and reject the discriminatory use of the term minorities, which engenders feelings of isolation and inferiority,” reads the “Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together.”
Citizenship for non-Muslims, including Christians, is strictly curtailed if not effectively banned in several Muslim countries, according to human rights groups. Taking up the issue and getting a leader as prominent as el-Tayeb to sign a document promising change can be seen as a diplomatic coup for the Pope.
The document also promises changes on another contentious topic within Islam, the role of women.
“Efforts must be made to modify those laws that prevent women from fully enjoying their rights,” wrote the Pope and el-Tayeb.
“It is an essential requirement to recognize the right of women to education and employment and to recognize the freedom to exercise their own political rights.”
The Pope said the document was a year in the making, with Francis and the Grand Imam confidentially sending drafts back and forth between them.
The novel document was born out of prayer and fear, Francis said.
“For me there is only one great danger in this moment: destruction, war, hatred between us,” the Pope told journalists on the return flight from Abu Dhabi.
Francis also celebrated the first-ever outdoor Mass in the United Arab Emirates, with a jubilant crowd of 130,000 expat workers mainly from the Philippines and India. He praised the Emirates for offering jobs to foreign workers, many of whom are Christians.
“In addition to professional skills, they bring you the genuineness of their faith,” the Pope said.
The Pope and the Grand Imam also inaugurated the first stone of a church and a mosque to be built side by side in Abu Dhabi. The Church of St. Francis and the Mosque of Grand Imam Ahmed el-Tayeb will form part of a center for interreligious dialogue.