Pope Francis, Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb Sign Historic Declaration of Peace

Pope Francis, Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb Sign Historic Declaration of Peace

Pope Francis, Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb Sign Historic Declaration of Peace

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

The pontiff stood somberly as the Vatican and Emirati anthems played ahead of a Papal visit which will see him meet with Islamic and political leaders and celebrate an outdoor mass with around 135,000 Catholic worshippers. "Observing the security and freedom of worship that minority faiths have in the UAE gives me hope for greater expansion of religious freedom in the UAE and for persecuted religious minorities across the Middle East".

Pope Francis wrapped up a historic three-day visit to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the first-ever papal visit to the Arabian Peninsula.

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", Efe news quoted the Pope as saying. "But the Lord is faithful and does not abandon his people".

Today, for the first time in the UAE, and the Arabian Peninsula, the Head of the Catholic Church will deliver a Homily, bringing together the Catholic community in the country for moments of peace and reflection.

The UAE has a sizeable Roman Catholic population and Pope Francis has referred to the country as a model of co-existence, a cause he has championed throughout his nearly six-year papacy.

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. People chanted "Pope Francis" and "Viva El Papa" as he waved at them aboard the popemobile.

Inside the stadium, 50,000 Catholics with tickets to the mass cheered the pope on, with one small group hoisting a pink posterboard which read "We the Catholics of Yemen love you!".

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

It was a reference to the UAE's often-stated claims of tolerance - it has a minister for tolerance, is hosting the interfaith meeting Francis is attending and has declared 2019 to be its "Year of Tolerance".

The pope was expected to raise the issue of Yemen, devastated by a war in which the UAE is a key player, in talks with Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed. "God is with those who seek peace", he said in the speech at Abu Dhabi's Founder's Memorial.

Yemen is the scene of what the United Nations calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis, triggered by the intervention of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and their allies in a war between the government and Huthi rebels.

Sheikh Tayeb, who addressed the pope as "my dear brother", called on Muslims in the Middle East to "embrace" local Christian communities.

"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", Francis said.

He arrived at Abu Dhabi Presidential Airport where he was greeted by Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed and Dr. Ahmed Al Tayeb, grand imam of Al Azhar Al Sharif University, The National reported.

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