ABU DHABI // The UAE's first Ambassador to the Holy See will meet Pope Benedict XVI today in the Vatican, marking a milestone in diplomatic relations between the two states. Dr Hissa al Otaiba, who as Ambassador to Spain is one of only two female ambassadors from the Emirates, will be making history. She is the first UAE ambassador to present her diplomatic credentials to the Vatican and to sit with the Holy See in a special audience.
"This is truly a historic moment in our diplomatic relations," said Bishop Paul Hinder, the vicar apostolic of Arabia, and one of the highest Vatican authorities in the UAE. "It will bring us closer and will help facilitate co-operation and negotiations between the Vatican and the UAE," he said. Dr al Otaiba, who is also the first female Arab head of mission in Spain and a member of the UN's International Forum for Women, was appointed two years ago along with Sheikha Najla Al Qassimi, who is posted to Sweden.
Dr al Otaiba, who will continue to serve as Ambassador to Spain, will be a non-resident ambassador to the Vatican. Her husband, Abdulaziz al Shamsi, is the UAE's Ambassador to Italy. Bishop Hinder said he was delighted by the announcement: "We were in this awkward position where we had an apostolic nuncio appointed to the UAE but no correspondent from the UAE to the Holy See." In March, Archbishop Petar Rajic was appointed the apostolic nuncio to the UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Yemen and the apostolic delegation in the Arabian Peninsula.
Now, with the appointment of Dr al Otaiba to the Vatican, Archbishop Rajic, who is currently based in Kuwait, will be presenting his credentials to the UAE in the summer. The archbishop will represent the interests of the Pope and serve as a liaison between the Holy See and the Roman Catholic dioceses in the nations to which he is assigned. In 2008, a delegation from the Federal National Council visited Vatican City and met the Pope against a backdrop of a region-wide commitment to interfaith dialogue. During the visit, the Pontiff expressed his delight over the construction of churches in the UAE and said: "I respect the efforts of your leadership to promote tolerance."
As part of the Catholic Church's outreach to Christians in the Middle East, the Pope will meet bishops and patriarchs from churches across the region in Cyprus next month. The visit follows pressure on Christians in some Islamic countries and threats to their security in conflict areas such as Iraq. There are believed to be around 500,000 Roman Catholics in the UAE, most of whom are from the Philippines or India.