The Papal visit begins with his arrival in Abu Dhabi tonight
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, has taken to Twitter to welcome the visit to the UAE by Pope Francis.
“We welcome Pope Francis to the UAE. This historic visit will deepen the values of tolerance, understanding and interfaith dialogue,” he said. “We are bound by our humanity, our common values and belief in the future of humankind. Welcome to the UAE in this, our year of tolerance.”
Sheikh Mohammed added that for the last five decades the UAE has “been promoting the values of love, security, acceptance, freedom of religion and respect of others.”
The Pope’s visit begins tonight at 10pm with his arrival. On Monday, he is scheduled for an official reception event at the Presidential Palace in Abu Dhabi, as well as a visit to the Grand Mosque alongside Dr. Ahmed Al Tayeb, the Grand Imam of Al Azhar and a ceremony of the concurrent Human Fraternity Meeting at the Founders Memorial.
On Tuesday, the Pope will deliver Mass for an estimated 135,000 people at Zayed Sports City before departing in the evening.
We welcome Pope Francis to the UAE. This historic visit will deepen the values of tolerance, understanding and interfaith dialogue.
We are bound by our humanity, our common values and belief in the future of humankind.
Welcome to the UAE in this, our year of tolerance .— HH Sheikh Mohammed (@HHShkMohd) February 2, 2019
In his tweets, Sheikh Mohammed also noted that the Pope’s visit to the UAE “comes at a time when the entire world needs to be bound together by common humanitarian values, strengthen bonds of fraternity and friendship, and highlight commonalities and reject sows of sedition, hatred, grudges and ethnic and religious discrimination.”
“We need to collectively work for noble goals and wholeheartedly endeavour to ultimately secure peace and stability for humanity at large,” he added.
The Pope’s visit has been welcomed by many members of the UAE’s one million strong Catholic community, most of whom hail from the Philippines or India.
In Dubai, for example, St. Mary’s Catholic Church was decorated with the yellow and white flags of the Vatican and a lifelike picture of Pope Francis. On Friday, the church – which can hold 2,500 people – was packed during Mass.
“We are very grateful,” Philippines national Ray Erwin was quoted as saying by AFP. “It’s a chance of a lifetime.”
Irene Ann Tomi, a 16-year old Indian national, said that the visit would be “an eye opener for all the Christians and the Muslims in the UAE.”
“We are all human,” she added. “I believe we are connected by one thread, and that is faith.”
Another pair of Indian citizens, Sebastian Thornton and Cerilla Sebastian, were quoted by the UAE’s state-run WAM news agency as expressing their gratitude to the government of the UAE.
“What a brilliant way to begin the Year of Tolerance in the UAE with the visit of the Pope,” they said. “We have more than 200 nationalities living in this country and everybody is co-existing in peace and harmony.”
Among those who praised the visit was former Argentina and Napoli star Diego Maradona, who posted a picture of himself with Pope Francis on his Instagram.
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Que el Papa @Franciscus visite Emiratos Arabes me parece fabuloso, porque será algo histórico. Es la primera vez que un Papa visita Arabia, donde tuve la posibilidad de trabajar como embajador deportivo y director técnico. Allí hay mayoría de musulmanes, pero conviven pacíficamente con otras religiones, entre ellas la católica. Son realmente un ejemplo a seguir.
“I think [the visit] is fabulous, because it will be something historic. It’s the first time a Pope visits tthe United Arab Emirates, where I had the chance to work as a sports ambassador and coach,” he wrote. “The majority there are Muslims, but they live peacefully with other religious, including Catholicism. They really are an example to follow.”
Maradona, who now coaches Mexican side Dorados, previously worked for Dubai club Al Wasl and for Fujairah FC.