Readies for historic visit of Pope Francis and Grand Imam of Al Azhar
ABU DHABI 22 January 2019: The UAE is preparing for the historic visit of His Holiness Pope Francis, the Head of the Catholic Church and Sovereign of the Vatican City, and His Eminence the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, Sheikh Ahmed El Tayeb, next month.
The landmark visit reflects the nation’s position as a global capital for tolerance and humanitarianism. It marks the first time a Pontiff has visited the GCC, and is the first time any Papal visit has coincided with a religious figure as significant as the Grand Imam. It comes after His Holiness, Pope Francis and His Eminence the Grand Imam accepted the invitation of His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces.
The visit from February 3rd-5th incorporates a series of high-profile events in Abu Dhabi, which will provide a backdrop for the two religious leaders to discuss the promotion of human fraternity and world peace. It marks a further milestone in the UAE’s commitment to promoting the human fraternity and shared values of tolerance and humanitarianism, and the peaceful coexistence of all people and religions.
Key events will include a Papal Mass at the Zayed Stadium on February 5th, which is expected to attract an estimated 135,000 people from the UAE and neighbouring countries – one of the largest single gatherings ever held in the UAE.
His Holiness, Pope Francis, and His Eminence, the Grand Imam, will also meet Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan for bilateral meetings and discussions.
They will also visit together the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and Zayed’s tomb and the Pontiff will also meet with the Muslim Council of Elders.
In the 47 years of the UAE’s existence, the nation has been proud to promote coexistence among its multinational population and hosting this visit and its commitment to human fraternity is a testament to the nation’s ongoing doctrines of peaceful coexistence, tolerance and human values, driven by open interfaith dialogue.
On 4th February Abu Dhabi will also play host to the Human Fraternity Meeting that will be attended by religious leaders from around the world.
The joint visit is a highly significant occasion for the UAE in 2019, which has been declared the ‘Year of Tolerance’ in the UAE, to further strengthen the nation’s role of encouraging stability and prosperity in the region. The Year of Tolerance follows the Year of Zayed in 2018 and the Year of Giving in 2017.
Freedom of Religious Expression
The UAE has a long and proud history of interfaith dialogue and freedom of religious expression and the first Catholic Church in the country was established in Abu Dhabi in 1965. Archeologists have also found remains of a church and monastery on Sir Bani Yas Island dating back to the 7th century.
Today there are a total of 76 churches and other places of worship in the UAE and the Government has also donated land for the development of new places of worship within the country.