Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 13 December 2019

The world must hear the Pope’s message

Prejudice, fear and intolerance will never be a solution to the global challenges

Pope Francis greets devotees after landing in Panama this week. He is due in Abu Dhabi on February 3. Marvin Recinos / AFP 
Pope Francis greets devotees after landing in Panama this week. He is due in Abu Dhabi on February 3. Marvin Recinos / AFP 

It is just over a week until the Pope, leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, arrives in the UAE for a visit that is as timely as it is historic. Pope Francis, who has made the strengthening of the bond between Christianity and Islam a cornerstone of his papacy, is making his first visit to the Arabian peninsula at a time when many western nations are succumbing to the politics of fear and intolerance.

In America, where the Statue of Liberty once welcomed the world’s “poor ... huddled masses yearning to breathe free”, President Donald Trump is intent on building walls to keep them out.

Europe, reduced to sabotaging the efforts of charities trying to save the lives of refugees in the Mediterranean, is in the process of raising its moral drawbridge.

Britain, a once proudly multicultural nation, is close to falling off the Brexit cliff edge towards which it has been stampeded by unfounded scaremongering about migrants.

Increasingly, the Pope’s words and actions contrast vividly with those of Europe’s secular leadership. In 2016 the Pope condemned Europe’s “indifferent and anaesthetised conscience” over the refugee crisis and sent out a powerful message by washing the feet of a group of young refugees at a shelter near Rome. This week, Italy’s far-right anti-immigration government began evicting more than 500 refugees from that very same shelter. Unconscionably, Europe has closed its ports to vessels carrying rescued migrants and impounded ships operated by charities that have rescued tens of thousands at sea.

Earlier this month the Pope stepped in to urge European nations to stop squabbling over the fate of 49 migrants trapped on board two rescue ships in the Mediterranean and offer them a safe harbour.

In a world that appears to be losing its moral compass, the Pope’s message of compassion and humanity appears increasingly to be a voice in the wilderness. The power of that voice was evident this week among the joyful crowds who greeted his arrival in Panama to celebrate World Youth Day.

Meanwhile, excitement about the papal visit next month to the UAE is mounting among its estimated one million Catholics. Capacity at Zayed Sports City Stadium has been increased to cope with demand for tickets to the Pope’s public Mass. Last year, when the Pope accepted the invitation to visit the UAE, he was described by Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, as a symbol for “peace, tolerance and the promotion of brotherhood”.

There is now more need than ever for such an outspoken symbol. In welcoming the Pope as it embarks on its Year of Tolerance, the UAE is adding its voice to his message of compassion.

Updated: January 24, 2019 07:42 PM

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