Pope Francis arrives in United Arab Emirates for first papal visit to Arabian Peninsula

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Pope Francis has arrived in the United Arab Emirates where he is seeking to improve Christian-Muslim relations.

His visit marks the first papal visit to the Arabian Peninsula, the birthplace of Islam.

The pope will speak at a giant mass in Abu Dhabi’s main sports area on Tuesday, which is expected to be attended by around 135,000 people.

Some have said it will be the largest-ever show of Christian worship on the Arabian Peninsula.

The Catholic Church believes there are one million Catholics in the UAE.

The pontiff will be seeking to build on two of his priorities in the Sunday to Tuesday trip by promoting interfaith dialogue and visiting Catholic areas.

However, diplomatic protocol is likely to dictate that he leaves other concerns behind.

The Emirates’ support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, which has caused the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, is likely not to be mentioned.

The UAE’s problematic record on human rights and labour violations at home are also likely to not be talked about – at least in public.

Unlike his other foreign trips, he will not deliver a political speech.

Pope Francis arrived in the capital Abu Dhabi to take part in a conference on inter-religious dialogue.

It is sponsored by the Emirates-based Muslim Council of Elders, an initiative that seeks to counter religious fanaticism by promoting a moderate brand of Islam

It is the brainchild of Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, the grand imam of Egypt’s Al-Azhar, the 1,000-year-old seat of Sunni Islam learning that trains clerics and scholars from around the world.

The meeting will be the fifth between the pontiff and the sheikh.

There had been a freeze in relations between the Al-Azhar and the Vatican after Pope Benedict XVI linked Islam to violence.

The upcoming meeting between Pope Francis and Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb suggests relations have thawed.

The pontiff paid homage to his “friend and dear brother” in a video message to the Emirates on the eve of his trip, and praised the sheikh’s courage in calling the meeting to assert that “God unites and doesn’t divide”.

He added: “I am pleased with this meeting offered by the Lord to write, on your dear land, a new page in the history of relations among religions and confirm that we are brothers despite our differences.”

The sheikh has described the upcoming meeting as “historic” and praised the “deeply fraternal relationship” between its imam and the pope, which it said even includes birthday greetings.

The pair are to address the Human Fraternity Meeting on Monday that has drawn not only Christian and Muslim representatives but hundreds of Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist and other Christian faith leaders.

It is all part of the Emirates’ Year of Tolerance and its effort to show its openness to other faiths in a region otherwise known for severe restrictions on religions outside of Islam.

(c) Sky News 2019: Pope Francis arrives in United Arab Emirates for first papal visit to Arabian Peninsula

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