Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 February 2019

The Pope's message of fraternity will resonate for years to come

In his Founder's Memorial speech Pope Francis echoed Sheikh Zayed's vision of tolerance and peace

Pope Francis speaks during an inter-faith meeting at the Founder's Memorial in Abu Dhabi. Reuters
Pope Francis speaks during an inter-faith meeting at the Founder's Memorial in Abu Dhabi. Reuters

When Abu Dhabi donated land on the Corniche in 1965 for the building of the region’s first Catholic church, none could have imagined the scenes that have unfolded in the capital this week. Yet the historic visit of the Pope is the direct consequence of that simple act of fraternity. For Sheikh Zayed, tolerance was a duty, a recognition that every human being is Allah’s creation. His guiding principle was that “people are all brothers ... the righteous is our brother, and the faulty is our brother”, and he was determined that the nation he founded in 1971 would be a place where peoples of all faiths would be welcome.

Tonight, in a poignant moment during his speech at the Founder’s Memorial, the Pope echoed that sentiment. Standing beneath a portrait of Sheikh Zayed, Pope Francis cited the declaration of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council in 1965 – issued in the very year the church of St Joseph’s opened: “We cannot truly call on God, the Father of all, if we refuse to treat in a brotherly way any man, created as he is in the image of God.”

With his visit to Abu Dhabi, the Pope has focused global attention on that message. Who could take issue with his insistence that “we cannot honour the Creator without cherishing the sacredness of every person and of every human life”, and that “every form of violence must be condemned without hesitation”?

The Pope has spoken of the importance of “seeking peace”, and to that end last night he confronted the realities of our troubled world. He condemned “the logic of armed power ... the arming of borders, the raising of walls”, and drew attention to the consequences of conflicts in Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Libya. The Grand Imam of Al Azhar Al Sharif, Dr Ahmed Al Tayeb, also spoke of the responsibility of leaders to protect the most vulnerable. Dr Anwar Gargash, the UAE’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, was quick to welcome the Pope’s words, tweeting his hope that 2019 would be the year of peace in Yemen.

The Pope’s passionate advocacy for unity and fellowship, delivered in a nation built on foundations of tolerance, has opened a conversation that must continue long after his return to Rome. Pope Francis has called on the world’s religions to build bridges between peoples and cultures. His visit to Abu Dhabi represents a unique opportunity for real change. As he said last night, there is no alternative. Either we build the future together, or there will be no future at all.

Updated: February 4, 2019 08:36 PM