The upcoming visit of Pope Francis to the UAE will help “close the gap” between different sects, religions and ethnicities across the wider Middle East, according to His Highness Sheikh Nahayan Mabarak Al Nahayan, the UAE’s Minister of State for Tolerance.
In an exclusive interview with Arabian Business ahead of the event, Sheikh Nahayan said that the “tremendous” Papal visit will not only be an opportunity for Catholics in the UAE to welcome their spiritual leader, but also “allow the world to appreciate the UAE’s contributions to pluralism and safe, peaceful prosperity.”
The visit, he added, may have a knock-on effect in other parts of the region – such as in Iraq or Egypt – in which religious minorities have faced persecution and violence.
“Hopefully, the visit of Pope Francis will close this gap and in fact contribute to the peaceful co-existence, understanding and respect of all religions, not only Christianity and Islam,” he said. “We’re looking forward to this historic visit.”
According to Sheikh Nahayan, an important facet of the Pope’s visit is that it coincides with a visit by Ahmed Al Tayeb, the current Grand Imam of Al Azhar, considered by some Muslims to be the highest authority in Sunni Islamic thought and Islamic jurisprudence.
“Together, they will meet with representatives of other religions to focus attention on promoting human brotherhood,” he added. “This will clearly show that dialogue and positive interaction among all of us does not require us to abandon our identities and commitments.”
Sheikh Nahayan added that dialogue does not, however, require communities to acknowledge, understand or explain their commitments.
“Dialogue does not mean everyone at the table will agree with one other,” he said. “Dialogue requires the resolve to be actively involved at the table, with one’s commitments and an open mind. This is the message of tolerance from the UAE to the world.”
Throughout 2019 – which the UAE has declared the ‘Year of Tolerance’ – Sheikh Nahayan said that the UAE will actively work to promote this message of tolerance to a wider audience far beyond the country’s borders.
“This is a year in which we will reach out not only for the UAE, but people of different faiths and religions everywhere to try and build bridges, try dispel stereotypes about each other and eliminate what is sometimes mistrust and fear,” he said.
“This all stems from our ignorance of each other. We should work on diversity as a strength for us to create a better and more peaceful world for everybody.”
The Pope’s visit between February 3 and 5 will include a number of high-profile events in Abu Dhabi, including a Papal Mass at Zayed Stadium that is expected to attract 135,000 people.
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