In the first-ever papal visit to the Arabian peninsula, Pope Francis is heading to the United Arab Emirates on Sunday for a trip to highlight coexistence, religious freedom and interfaith relations.
The pope plans to meet with the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmed el-Tayeb. The UAE has declared 2019 the “year of tolerance,” bringing together different religions.
In preparation for the visit, the UAE has been highlighting its commitment to tolerance and peace between religions. This is important in a region recovering from years of conflict and strife.
“I am happy for this occasion the Lord has given me to write on your dear land, a new page in the history of relations between religions,” the pope said last week. He also said, in Arabic, “Peace be with you.” He asserted that faith in these times can draw people closer.
The UAE is hosting 600 religious leaders for an inter-faith conference that will also be part of the pope’s itinerary. Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, tweeted his welcome to the pontiff and to el-Tayeb. “We are hopeful that generations to come will prosper in peace and security.”
A page devoted to the Human Fraternity Meeting, the interfaith part of the trip, says that 2,000 students have signed a Zayed Pledge of Tolerance, that is part of the precursor events to the arrival of Tayeb and Francis.