The UAE has won over the Vatican with its openness and ideas for Muslim-Christian relations. War is not the answer and Pope Francis made a strong statement that he would travel long distances into the Muslim world despite criticism to stave off conflict between two faiths that believe in one God. Islam and Christianity are Abrahamic religions and they are monotheistic. So why fight and for what?
The leader of the Catholic Church said the flowering of ties during this visit to Abu Dhabi was “nothing short of historic”. Speaking to journalists on board the papal flight back to Rome, the pontiff, a simple man with great conviction, also showed his common touch. “I loved the flowers in Abu Dhabi and was amazed how they sprung up in the desert. The city is so clean and beautiful.”
Indeed, Muslim-Christian relations have bloomed with careful tending and nurture since Pope Francis took charge in 2013 as the 266th Catholic pope. This pope wants to make those gains count with the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, Ahmed El Tayyeb, forgetting the bad blood of the past, while looking with faith and hope to the future.
A simple man of wisdom, the pontiff was pleased with the solutions that emerged from his visit and meetings with the UAE leadership and Islamic scholars. “Many would wonder why I was given such a grand welcome. That was because the leadership of the country wanted me to join them in finding paths to shared prosperity for both the Islamic and Christian worlds. We are people of one God and we have a common future.”
He pitched for religious freedom that goes beyond conducting masses in churches and called for greater rights for Christian minorities in the Middle East. The pontiff said during the media interaction that he was convinced that dialogue was the sole way to prevent a full-blown war. It may have taken months to agree on the Abu Dhabi Document, or the Human Fraternity Declaration, but both sides persevered to lay the groundwork for a reconciliation process.
He said the document was a start and there was much work to do in the fight against radicalism and terrorism.
“The killing of Abel by his brother Cain (which is recorded in both the Holy Quran and Bible) was the first act of terrorism,” the pontiff reminded the media. A brother fighting a brother is not acceptable is what Pope Francis was trying to say. The Vatican leader was both jovial and serious during the chat on board the special Etihad flight, but his message was not lost on his audience who latched on to every word he said. On the Yemen conflict, he said he supports a negotiated settlement that is in the best interests of the warring sides.
When asked about the abuse of female leaders and nuns in the Catholic church, he was not as convincing and said cases are being investigated and deftly side-stepped the issue.
The pope’s credentials as a man of peace and courage were further burnished during this visit. He signalled he would not be pushed around but would stand his ground to throw war off course.
Government of Dubai, Media Office 2019
Jacob, A (2019), “Pope Francis calls UAE visit historic” Available at: https://www.khaleejtimes.com/news/general/pope-calls-uae-visit-historic-
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