Vatican foundation honors Abu Dhabi crown prince with ‘Man of Humanity’ award

Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, pictured in Abu Dhabi on May 13, 2008. Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, pictured in Abu Dhabi on May 13, 2008. | Imre Solt via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0).

A Vatican foundation honored Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan with its “Man of Humanity” award this week.

Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi, the prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Education, traveled to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to present the award at a ceremony held at Emirates Palace on the evening of July 6.

The crown prince and deputy supreme commander of the UAE Armed Forces was honored for his contributions to education and humanitarian initiatives by the Pontifical Foundation Gravissimum Educationis, according to local media.

Sheikh Mohammed, 60, is believed to have served as the day-to-day ruler of the UAE since his brother suffered a stroke in 2014. He has led the country’s foreign policy, which has included deploying warplanes in Libya in 2017 and joining the Saudi-led coalition in the war in Yemen.

A French rights group, International Alliance for the Defence of Rights and Freedoms (AIDL), filed a lawsuit against Sheikh Mohammed in 2018, accusing him of war crimes and complicity in torture reportedly carried out by Emirati forces in Yemen.

The UAE withdrew its forces from involvement in Yemen’s civil war in 2020.

Sheikh Mohammed oversaw $1.3 trillion in sovereign wealth funds in 2020, according to the New York Times.

Often also referred to as MBZ, Sheikh Mohammed was among the central figures behind the Abu Dhabi event in which Pope Francis and Ahmed Al Tayyeb, Grand Imam of Al Azhar, signed the Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together in 2019, according to Khaleej Times.

Pope Francis is welcomed to the United Arab Emirates by Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, at the presidential palace, Feb. 4, 2019. / Vatican Media.
Pope Francis is welcomed to the United Arab Emirates by Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, at the presidential palace, Feb. 4, 2019. / Vatican Media.

Gulf News reported that Pope Francis called the crown prince in June 2020 to thank him for collaborating with the Vatican to provide medical and food aid to indigenous populations in the Peruvian Amazon during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The humanitarian initiative was the result of the UAE’s collaboration with the Pontifical Gravissimum Educationis Foundation, according to Vatican News.

An Emirate government minister attended the ceremony on July 6 to receive the award on behalf of the crown prince.

While in the Emirates, Versaldi also signed an agreement with the UAE Minister of Education involving Catholic schools in the country.

“This is an important step, even if limited to the field of education and to activities that are the responsibility of the ministries concerned,” Versaldi said, according to Vatican News.

“Concretely, our students and those of Arab schools can attend seminars, open new collaborations, do research, visit each other’s institutes on the basis of common values, in full respect of differences. Without any proselytism,” he added.

The official religion of the UAE is Islam, with a Sunni Muslim majority. About 12.6% of the total population is Christian, according to the Pew Research Center.

In Abu Dhabi, the capital city of the UAE with a population of 1.42 million, there were a total of two Catholic churches as of 2019.

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Versaldi said that the new agreement with the UAE aimed to create “concrete initiatives of cultural exchange” once the pandemic has ended.

The Pontifical Foundation Gravissimum Educationis was created by Pope Francis in 2015 with the “aim of pursuing ‘scientific and cultural ends, intended to promote Catholic education in the world.’”

The foundation takes its name from Gravissimum educationis, one of three declarations of Vatican II. The conciliar document recognized the Church’s role in education, ordered toward man's salvation, and stated fundamental principles of Christian education.

Msgr. Guy-Réal Thivierge, secretary general of the pontifical foundation, and Tajeddine Seif, the foundation’s ambassador, also accompanied Versaldi on his trip to Abu Dhabi.

The Vatican prefect and Msgr. Thivierge also made an official visit to Abu Dhabi on Feb. 1-5, 2020, for the celebration of the first anniversary of the signing of the Human Fraternity document.

During the anniversary event, the Higher Committee of Human Fraternity presented how it had contributed to implementing the principles of the fraternity document.

The Higher Committee of Human Fraternity is a group comprised of nine members: five Muslims; one Jew, a rabbi; two Catholics, members of the Roman Curia; and one United Nations official with no stated religion in her biography.

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Sheikh Mohammed presented the committee as a group to implement initiatives that foster tolerance and coexistence.

The crown prince also established the Zayed Awards for Human Fraternity, a $1 million award presented by the Higher Committee of Human Fraternity. The award is named for Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the late ruler of Abu Dhabi and founder of the United Arab Emirates.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres and Moroccan-French activist Latifa Ibn Ziaten were the recipients of the award in 2021. Pope Francis and Al-Tayeb received a joint honorary award in 2019, according to its website.

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