Pope calls United Arab Emirates 'a land of coexistence' ahead of visit

Pope Francis greets crowds in Ireland for the 2018 World Meeting of Families Credit Daniel Ibanez   CNA 2 Pope Francis at the 2018 World Meeting of Families in Ireland. | Daniel Ibanez/CNA.

Pope Francis expressed gratitude for his upcoming trip to the United Arab Emirates, noting it is an opportunity to promote greater peace between Muslims and Catholics.  

"I am happy for this opportunity offered to me by the Lord to write, on your dear land, a new page in the history of the relations between the religions, confirming that we are brothers even though we are different," the pope said in a Jan. 31 video message to the people of the UAE.

"With joy I prepare to meet and to greet 'eyal Zayid fi dar Zayid/ the sons of Zayid in the home of Zayid,' a land of prosperity and peace, a land of sun and harmony, a land of coexistence and encounter!"

Francis will visit Abu Dhabi, capital of the UAE, Feb. 3-5. There, Pope Francis will hold an interreligious meeting and a private meeting with the Muslim Council of Elders. He will make a private visit to the cathedral, and say Mass at a stadium.

The trip's theme is "Make me an instrument of your peace," a 20th century prayer which is often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi. The trip will focus on "how all people of goodwill can work for peace," according to the Holy See press office.

The trip is widely seen as a part of the Pope's emphasis on a culture of encounter and interreligious dialogue. Pope Francis visited Egypt in 2017 and plans to visit Morocco March 30-31.

In the video, the Pope said the UAE is a land aiming for "coexistence, human fraternity and encounter between diverse civilizations and cultures."

He thanked Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, crown prince of Abu Dhabi, for his invitation. The pope also thanked Ahmed el-Tayeb, grand imam of al-Azhar, for his assistance in the meeting's preparations.

"I thank… those who have collaborated in the preparation of the meeting, for theircourage and will to affirm that faith in God unites rather than divides, that it brings us closer even in difference, distancing us from banishing hostility and aversion."

Pope Francis quoted the words of Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, founder of the UAE: "True wealth does not reside solely in material resources; the true wealth of the nation resides in the people who build the future of their nation … Men are the true wealth."

The trip was announced in December. Then-papal spokesman Greg Burke said the visit is a testimony to the Pope's desire for peace among religions.   

"This visit, like the one to Egypt, shows the fundamental importance the Holy Father gives to inter-religious dialogue. Pope Francis visiting the Arab world is a perfect example of the culture of encounter," Burke said Dec. 6.

According to Al Arabiya, the crown prince said the country looks "forward to the pope's historic visit aimed to maximize opportunities for dialogue and coexistence among nations."

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

The UAE is unique in that many of its residents hail from other countries. An estimated 89 percent of the population of the UAE are not citizens of the country.

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