Pope preaches peace and tolerance on trip to UAE

Two men and a girl pose for a selfie with a cutout image of Pope Francis ahead of his visit to the United Arab Emirates
Credit GIUSEPPE CACACE AFP

Two men and a girl pose for a selfie with a cutout image of Pope Francis ahead of his visit to the United Arab Emirates Credit GIUSEPPE CACACE AFP

Pope Francis on Sunday became the first pontiff to visit the Arabian Peninsula, just hours after issuing his strongest condemnation of the war in Yemen, where his host - the United Arab Emirates - has a leading military role.

Francis, 82, arrived in a humble Kia hatchback with a small group of clerics but was greeted with an artillery salute and military flyover after being escorted through the palace gardens by horse-mounted guards.

"Let us commit ourselves against the logic of armed power", he said.

"We discussed enhancing cooperation, consolidating dialogue, tolerance, human coexistence & important initiatives to achieve peace, stability and development for peoples and societies", Sheikh Mohammed tweeted.

Pope Francis meets Vice-President of the United Arab Emirates and ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, and Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan during a welcome ceremony at the Presidential Palace in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, February 4, 2019.

His trip culminates on Tuesday with the first-ever papal Mass on the Arabian Peninsula - a gathering expected to draw some 135,000 people in a never-before-seen display of public Christian worship here.

The UAE has declared Tuesday a holiday for invitees to the mass.

In a letter to the pope on Monday, Human Rights Watch accused the Saudi-led coalition of impeding the delivery of aid while indiscriminately bombing Yemeni homes, markets and schools.

In a message to the prince, written in the palace book of honour, Francis offered the people of the UAE his prayers and 'the divine blessings of peace and fraternal solidarity'.

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Even as the UAE is seen to be providing a leading military role to Riyadh in prosecuting its attacks against the Iran-aligned Houthi group, the four-year war now sees widespread starvation and disease in Yemen.

Francis' speech to the gathering of faith leaders was the highlight of his 40-hour visit to Abu Dhabi.

Yemen's warring parties agreed a ceasefire in December at the first major peace talks of the almost four-year-old war, which pits Arab states backing an exiled president against the Iran-aligned Houthi movement that controls the capital.

Ultra-conservative Sunni powerhouse Saudi Arabia bans all non-Muslim places of worship. A almost four-year war with the Iran-aligned Houthi group has pushed Yemen to the brink of starvation.

The United Nations is trying to implement a truce and troop withdrawal deal in the main Yemeni port of Hodeidah that was agreed in December talks as a trust-building step that could pave the way for political negotiations to end the conflict.

Francis arrival followed his surprising appeal on Sunday at the Vatican for the urgent observation of a limited cease-fire in Yemen and for food and medicine to get to its people, who are suffering the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

Stalled efforts to implement a cease-fire have made it hard for humanitarian aid to reach civilians, with millions of Yemenis on the brink of starvation. Write to us in the Comments section, and visit our Facebook page.

Most of the UAE's population is Muslim, but the country contains about 1.2 million Christians, most of which are expatriates from India and the Philippines. Another 1 million Catholics are believed to live in other countries in the Arabian Peninsula.

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