“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.
Courtney Mares is a Rome Correspondent for Catholic News Agency. A graduate of Harvard University, she has reported from news bureaus on three continents and was awarded the Gardner Fellowship for her work with North Korean refugees.