The U.A.E launched the Year of Tolerance with a historic visit from the head of the Catholic Church, His Holiness Pope Francis, which marks the first time a pontiff visits the the Arabian Peninsula – the birthplace of Islam. The three-day visit focused on promoting tolerance and peace among all faiths in the region and beyond..
The U.A.E is known to be home for many people of different nationalities and religions who have been in the country for decades. From Asia, Africa, Europe and elsewhere, a unified audience longed for the Pope’s visit.
The historic mass held on Tuesday morning by the Pope was attended by more than 180,000 people, according to Abu Dhabi TV. Hosted in Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi, in the presence of the Minister of state for Tolerance, Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, the mass lasted 90 minutes and was broadcast live on YouTube and many news outlets. There were special appearances from priests and cardinals from Egypt, Lebanon, India and many more. Each culture prayed for a purpose and hoped for a better world.
“We stood there praying in one language, and we all prayed for peace. What has happened is blissful. Words can’t describe the appreciation we have for this country that most of us call home,” said Wesam Ayoub, 24, a Jordanian born and raised in the U.A.E.
“This country has allowed us to practice our religions freely, we are blessed to have witnessed this event. Thank you U.A.E,” expressed Samia Khreiche, 55, a Lebanese who has lived in the U.A.E for more than twenty years, and an active participant in the Dubai St. Mary’s Church.
The Pope visit was not only significant for the Christian faith in the region, but also for U.A.E nationals who take pride in their country. “I am happy that the year of tolerance began with this initiative because this shows how much we appreciate the different cultures among us,” said Emirati AUD business student Maryam Al Muzzaki.
“This is very significant for the U.A.E because it continues to prove that we are accepting, tolerant and willing to change the norms around us. Hopefully this will set an example for surrounding countries and spread hope in the Middle East,” she said.
His Holiness Pope Francis signed a Human Fraternity document with Dr Ahmad Al Tayeb, Grand Imam of Al Azhar that promotes interfaith conversation.