POPE ARRIVES IN UAE FOR HISTORIC GULF VISIT
04 FEBRUARY 2019 (SOURCE: REUTERS)– Pope Francis on Sunday became the first pontiff to set foot on the Arabian Peninsula, just hours after issuing his strongest condemnation yet of the war in Yemen, where his host the United Arab Emirates has a leading military role.
Shortly before departing for Abu Dhabi, Pope Francis said he was following the humanitarian crisis in Yemen with great concern, using his regular Sunday address in Vatican City to urge all sides to implement a fragile peace deal and help deliver aid to millions of hungry people.
“The cry of these children and their parents rises up to God,” he told tens of thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square.
The pope will meet Muslim leaders and celebrate an outdoor mass for some 135,000 Catholics, an event with no precedent on the Arabian peninsula. He has said the trip, which ends on Tuesday, is an opportunity to write “a new page in the history of relations between religions”.
The UAE, which named 2019 its Year of Tolerance, says the visit reflects its history as a “cradle of diversity”.
But it faces criticism from human rights groups for jailing activists, including Ahmed Mansoor, an Emirati who is serving a 10-year sentence for criticizing the government on social media.
“We are calling on Pope Francis to raise the issue of their incarceration with his hosts, and urge their immediate and unconditional release,” Amnesty International said in a statement on Saturday. UAE authorities did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
The UAE is home to around 1 million expatriate Catholics, many from the Philippines. Another 1 million Catholics are believed to live in other countries in the Arabian Peninsula.
Priests and diplomats describe the UAE as one of the least restrictive environments in the Gulf for Christian worship. But like its neighbors, the UAE does not allow dissent or criticism of its leadership.
All Gulf states except Saudi Arabia allow Christian worship in churches or church compounds and other premises with special licenses. In Saudi Arabia, non-Muslims pray in secret gatherings in private homes and embassies.
Abu Dhabi’s crown prince is an ally of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has reached out to Christian representatives abroad as part of attempts to open up the conservative kingdom. Mohammed bin Salman’s international reputation has eroded since the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October.
The pope has already visited half a dozen predominantly Muslim nations during his reign, using the trips to call for inter-religious dialogue and to condemn the use of violence in the name of God.
The UAE ambassador to Washington, Yousef Al Otaiba, wrote in an op-ed in Politico magazine on Sunday that the pontiff’s visit sent a signal of co-existence and respect in the face of the “menace of extremism” across the Middle East.
(REUTERS) https://www.reuters.com/article/us-pope-emirates/pope-arrives-in-uae-for-historic-gulf-visit-condemns-yemen-war-idUSKCN1PS0CU (IMAGE) https://www.reuters.com/article/us-pope-emirates/pope-arrives-in-uae-for-historic-gulf-visit-condemns-yemen-war-idUSKCN1PS0CU