Published: Wed, February 06, 2019
Global Media | By Garry Long

Pope Francis Holds Historic Public Mass Service In United Arab Emirates

Pope Francis Holds Historic Public Mass Service In United Arab Emirates

In his homily, delivered in Italian and translated into Arabic with English subtitles on giant screens, Francis made a direct reference to the sufferings many endure.

Later on Tuesday, Pope Francis celebrated an outdoor mass for some 135,000 Catholics in an Abu Dhabi sports stadium, an event with no precedent in the peninsula.

On Monday, the pope held talks in Abu Dhabi with Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb - imam of Cairo's Al-Azhar, Sunni Islam's prestigious seat of learning.

The pontiff will take part in an inter-religious conference on Monday with Sheikh Ahmed. Notably, the UAE is a signatory to the war declared by its neighbour Saudi Arabia in Yemen.

The United Arab Emirates and neighbouring Saudi Arabia are key allies of the Yemeni government, which is locked in a war against Iran-backed rebels that has pushed Yemen to the brink of starvation.

"I appeal to all parties concerned and to the worldwide community to allow the urgent respect of established accords to ensure the distribution of food", he said.

The pontiff prayed a Hail Mary for Yemen's children, suffering from hunger but unable to access food depots. "The cry of these children and their parents rises up to God", he told tens of thousands of people in St. Peter's Square during his regular Sunday address. Fr Bijo Kudilil, the priest of Ruwi church, had previously said, "I am really happy about this because he is coming to the Middle East and this is a really historic moment, so we are all happy about it".

Meanwhile, many migrant workers - predominantly from South Asia, many of whom form a large part of the country's Christian population - continue to be vulnerable to forced labour inside the Gulf Kingdom, despite foreign nationals account for almost 90 percent of the UAE's population.

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He has used his visit to the United Arab Emirates to reach out to Muslims as well as highlighting Yemen's devastating conflict, in which the UAE is a key player.

A home that is receiving the visit of the most important guest of all: the migrant Pope who reaches out to every single periphery.

Meanwhile, secretary-general of the International Union of Muslim Scholars, Sheikh Ali al-Qaradaghi, a Doha-based body, said that while the union supports dialogue and interfaith dialogue, the pope's visit to the UAE may be interpreted as an endorsement for human rights violations and despotism.

Peter Hellyer, media adviser to the UAE's National Media Council, discusses the country's commitment to tolerance and shares his thoughts on the historic visit after living over 40 years in the country.

The sheikh, during his address, called the pope "my dear brother". Along with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt, the UAE severed diplomatic and trade ties with Qatar in June 2017, accusing it of backing "terrorism" - allegation Doha strongly denies.

The UAE prides itself on its religious tolerance and cultural diversity. The country is home to eight Catholic churches, Hindu temples and a place of prayer that serves as a synagogue. A almost four-year war with the Iran-aligned Houthi group has pushed Yemen to the brink of starvation.

Top UAE officials welcomed the leader of the world's 1.3 billion Roman Catholics at the presidential palace.

Millions of Yemenis face imminent starvation, according to the United Nations (UN). This will be his first visit to the Middle East, and I don't think any other Pope has come to the Middle East.

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