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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

Pope Francis visit to the UAE is a reminder that Muslims and Christians share far more than divides them

The leader of the Roman Catholic Church will visit Abu Dhabi in February for an interfaith meeting

Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed meets Pope Francis in the Papal Library at the Apostolic Palace in Rome in September 2016. Ryan Carter / Crown Prince Court - Abu Dhabi 
Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed meets Pope Francis in the Papal Library at the Apostolic Palace in Rome in September 2016. Ryan Carter / Crown Prince Court - Abu Dhabi 

Seldom has there been a more pressing need for dialogue between the Muslim and Christian faiths.

That Pope Francis has chosen Abu Dhabi as the setting for that conversation is a tribute to the values of tolerance and open-mindedness that have made the UAE a beacon of peace and harmony in an increasingly divided world.

Thanks to the rise of right-wing western populist movements, eager to exploit the misfortunes of migrants and refugees for political gain, and the murderous misrepresentation of Islam by extremist groups such as ISIS, intolerance has been gaining territory.

In the UAE, though, the seeds of religious and racial bigotry have always fallen on stony ground.

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Read more on Pope Francis's visit:

Pope Francis to make landmark visit to UAE

Opinion: UAE visit signals new tone on Islam for Pope Francis

The Pope's visit: The story of the Roman Catholic Church in the UAE

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Here and in many parts of the Arab world, mosques and churches stand side by side, as they have since the earliest days of the nation. Different beliefs are respected and followers of all faiths are free to worship in their own way, as the Quran and the Hadith instruct they should be.

The way of life in the UAE and elsewhere in the Arab world gives the lie to the perverted interpretation of Islam peddled by the extremists whose outrages have done so much to distort the perception of the faith around the world.

The invitation to the Pope was extended jointly by Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, and the Catholic Church in the UAE, and follows a visit by the crown prince to the Vatican in 2016.

In part, the invitation is an acknowledgment of the role played in UAE society by the large community of Filipino Catholics, who will be overjoyed at the prospect of the papal visit.

But it also sends out to the world the all-important message that spirituality is a universal human quality that unites rather than divides us. It was in recognition of that truth that last year the mosque next to St Andrew’s Church in Abu Dhabi was renamed Mary, Mother of Jesus mosque by royal decree.

The logo of the Pope’s visit – a dove, its wings flecked with the colours of the UAE and holding an olive branch in its beak – is both a tribute to the nation and, as a symbolic evocation of the flood narrative common to both great faiths, a timely reminder that Muslims and Christians share far more than divides them.

The theme of the interfaith meeting Pope Francis will attend in Abu Dhabi in February is “human fraternity”. In the UAE, where people of all faiths and of none from over 200 countries live peacefully and happily side by side, the leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics will experience that fraternity firsthand.

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When Sheikh Mohamed met the Pope in 2016