Pope Francis’ surprise visit in Abu Dhabi renews hopes for interfaith reconciliation
In a historic move denoting possible reconciliation of religions, Pope Francis accepted to visit Abu Dhabi on Sunday. This is the first time a pontiff will arrive at the Arabian Peninsula. Pope Francis received earlier an invitation by UAE’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan to attend an interfaith conference hosted in Abu Dhabi on Sunday.
In his message to UAE citizens, Pope Francis underscored the necessity of alleviating Yemen’s plight and helping people in the country to improve their living conditions. The Pope especially stressed the problem of famine and limited access of locals to international food relief. Pope Francis also criticised the belligerent parties to the conflict including UAE. The Emirati government has sided with the Saudi-led coalition which supports the rule of Yemen’s President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi.
As part of his visit, Pope Francis will also have a formal encounter with Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of Cairo’s Al-Azhar Mosque. This position represents the leading religious authority for Sunni Muslims. The ulterior objective of Pope Francis’ visit in Abu Dhabi is to loosen religious restrictions about the exercise of Christian faith in the Arabian Peninsula. Of particular importance is the issue of constructing Christian religious sites and allowing worshipping processions, especially in Saudi Arabia, where non-Muslim religious sites are not allowed.