Pope Francis Makes Historic Visit to Arabian Peninsula

04 February, 2019

Pope Francis has become the first pope in history to visit the Arabian Peninsula, the birthplace of Islam.

Francis opened his official visit Monday in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Top UAE officials welcomed the leader of the world's 1.3 billion Roman Catholics at the presidential palace. The pope received a traditional military welcome that included a flyover by UAE military aircraft. The airplanes left smoke in yellow and white, the official colors of the Vatican flag.

Welcoming the pope were Abu Dhabi's crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and the UAE's vice president and prime minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.

In a message, Pope Francis thanked the crown prince for the warm welcome and said the UAE people were in his thoughts and prayers.

Sheikh Mohammed presented the pope with a document from 1963, in which the then-ruler of Abu Dhabi donated land to build the first Catholic church in the Emirates.

The UAE is home to about 1 million Roman Catholics. Many of them are workers from the Catholic-majority Philippines.

Wind blows Pope Francis' cape during an official welcome ceremony at the Abu Dhabi Presidential Palace, United Arab Emirates, Monday, Feb. 4, 2019.
Wind blows Pope Francis' cape during an official welcome ceremony at the Abu Dhabi Presidential Palace, United Arab Emirates, Monday, Feb. 4, 2019.

On social media, Sheikh Mohammed wrote about his meeting with the pope. He said they discussed increased cooperation in several areas. They also agreed to seek ways to "achieve peace, stability and development" for all people.

Pope Francis also attended a gathering of leaders from major world religions, including Christianity and Islam.

The pope told the meeting that religious leaders have a duty to reject war and seek to resolve conflict through negotiation. "God is with those who seek peace," he said in the speech at Abu Dhabi's Founder's Memorial.

Pope Francis warned that unless people of different religions come together to seek "concrete paths of peace," the future of humanity itself will be in danger.

Speaking in Italian, the pope noted conflicts in Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Libya. He called on the religious leaders to resist such "floods of violence." He said that, as representatives of the world's major religions, they have a "duty to reject every nuance of approval from the word ‘war.'"

The UAE is involved in the conflicts in Yemen, Syria and Libya.

The religious leaders also heard from Sheik Ashamed el-Tayeb, leader of Egypt's Al-Azhar, the 1,000-year-old seat of Sunni Islam. He called on Muslims in the Middle East to "embrace" and welcome local Christian communities.

"You are part of this nation... You are not minorities," he said. The Islamic leader also called on Muslims in western nations to be involved in their communities and respect local laws.

I'm Jonathan Evans.

Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English. His story was based on reports from the Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse and VOA News. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

church – n.a Christian religious center

stability n.the quality of not being likely to change or move

concrete adj.identifying something real or a group of things

nuance n.small difference in meaning, appearance or sound

embrace v.to accept new ideas, beliefs or methods