Pope Francis Calls for Peace in Visit to UAE
Pope Francis recently concluded his three-day trip to the United Arab Emirates, advocating for peace in the myriad of conflicts affecting the region in places like Syria and Iraq, according to NPR. The Pope’s visit to the region marks the first time that a Pope has ever visited the Arabian Peninsula.
Throughout his visit - which was framed around interfaith dialogue, religious tolerance, and calls for peace - he met with a number of key political and religious figures from the region, including the grand imam of Cairo’s Al-Azhar University, Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb. They discussed issues of peace and interfaith unity and released a statement saying, “We resolutely declare that religions must never incite war, hateful attitudes, hostility and extremism, nor must they incite violence or the shedding of blood.”
During his visit to the UAE, Pope Francis declared that “every form of violence must be condemned without hesitation... no violence can be justified in the name of religion.” The UAE remains involved in some capacity in the conflicts in Libya, Syria, and Yemen. Several governments and human rights groups such as Human Rights Watch have condemned the Emirati role in these conflicts, particularly its role in the ongoing civil war in Yemen.
The UAE is part of the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen that is supporting the Yemeni government in its fight against the Houthi rebels. According to Human Rights Watch, the Saudi-led coalition, UAE included, has committed numerous human rights violations, including indiscriminate airstrikes against non-military targets and secret prisons where torture and sexual abuse run rampant. As a result of the war and the coalition’s blockade against vital Yemeni ports, millions of Yemenis face the prospects of starvation and illness. In the same speech, as CNN reports, the pope called for prayers for the “children that are hungry, are thirsty, don’t have medicine and their lives are in danger.”
Human Rights Watch also released a statement prior to the Pope’s visit to the UAE, pushing the Pope to discuss the human rights abuses occurring within the country, such as the rights of foreign workers. However, it is unknown if those issues were discussed during the private conversations between the Pope and Emirati officials.
The Pope concluded his visit to the United Arab Emirates by holding Catholic Mass in Abu Dhabi’s Zayed Sports City stadium, as reported by Haaretz. According to Emirati officials, an estimated 135,000 people attended the service. The majority of the crowd were migrant workers in the UAE (an estimated one million Catholic migrant workers live in the UAE) and Catholic tourists. Citizens from over 100 countries came to Abu Dhabi to watch the Pope speak. In order to accommodate the wide language variety, the Pope’s speech was translated into several languages, reported NPR.