New chapter in history of fraternity, tolerance

Pope in UAE on the first ever papal visit to the Arabian Peninsula


Abu Dhabi — Pope Francis arrived in the UAE Sunday for the first ever papal visit to the Arabian Peninsula, birthplace of Islam, where he will hold an open-air mass for tens of thousands of Catholics.

The pontiff will take part in an interreligious conference on Monday, meeting Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb, the imam of Cairo’s Al-Azhar, Sunni Islam’s prestigious seat of learning.

Hours before he flies back to Rome on Tuesday, he will lead an open-air mass -- set to be the largest gathering ever in the UAE, according to local media.

The pope boarded a flight Sunday afternoon from Rome’s Fiumicino airport for Abu Dhabi.

Before heading to the Gulf, the pontiff urged warring parties in Yemen to respect a truce agreement.

“I appeal to all parties concerned and to the international community to allow the urgent respect of established accords to ensure the distribution of food,” he said.

UAE minister of state for foreign affairs Anwar Gargash extended an official welcome to Pope Francis on Sunday.

“It is a visit that carries great humanitarian value, and the UAE adds a new (chapter) in the history of fraternity and tolerance,” he tweeted.

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”.

Nearly one million Catholic migrants reside in the UAE, mostly hailing from the Philippines and India. Around 135,000 have secured precious tickets to Tuesday’s mass at Zayed Sports City Stadium.

On Sunday morning, hundreds of Catholics queued in drizzling rain outside St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Abu Dhabi to get their passes.

The UAE capital’s main streets and those leading to St. Joseph’s Cathedral -- which the pope is set to visit on Tuesday -- were lined with Vatican City flags and banners of the interreligious meeting. — AFP