x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Pope praises UAE's tolerance as new ambassador makes historic visit

'I was welcomed like a queen,' says Dr Hissa al Otaiba, UAE's new Ambassador to the Holy See.

Dr Hissa al Otaiba, the UAE's new Ambassador to the Holy See, was granted a 15-minute audience with Pope Benedict XVI yesterday.
Dr Hissa al Otaiba, the UAE's new Ambassador to the Holy See, was granted a 15-minute audience with Pope Benedict XVI yesterday.

Dr Hissa al Otaiba, the UAE's new Ambassador to the Holy See, said yesterday that her meeting with the Pope was not only a historic moment for her country and for Emirati women, but also the fulfilment of a personal dream. "I am the proof that if there is a will and a drive, there is a way," said Dr al Otaiba after the meeting with Benedict XVI, at which she presented her credentials.

"It was so great, I got so emotional when His Holiness smiled at me and welcomed me to the Vatican." During her 15-minute audience with the pontiff, he praised the UAE for "its tolerance" and for the "great treatment and freedom" of its Christian residents. As a token of friendship, Dr al Otaiba presented the Pope with an oil painting of a traditional Emirati home, painted by the Emirati artist Rashid al Bolushi.

"Our relationship with the Vatican is good, but it can always get better, and it will," she said. Dr al Otaiba said she had been welcomed like a queen. On arriving at the Vatican, she was greeted by the Vatican guards and taken on a personal tour by the Cardinal Secretary of State, Tarcisio Bertone. "This is just the beginning of our diplomatic outreach and extension of our friendship," she said.

Her appointment follows the appointment of the Archbishop Petar Rajic in March as the apostolic nuncio to the UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Yemen and the apostolic delegation in the Arabian Peninsula. The Archbishop, who is currently based in Kuwait, will present his credentials to the UAE in the summer. Dr al Otaiba, who is also an Ambassador to Spain, will remain based in Madrid. Her husband, Abdulaziz al Shamsi, is the UAE Ambassador to Italy.

"My family is so proud of me and so supportive," said Dr al Otaiba. Born in Abu Dhabi, she has lived in Egypt, Europe, North Africa and North and South America. Dr al Otaiba hopes that her career will serve as an example for Emirati women, proving there is "no limit" to what a woman can do. "Through hard work and God's will, anything is possible," she said. This was Dr al Otaiba's first visit to the Vatican. But being first at breaking barriers is nothing new to her. Since her appointment to the Spanish post two years ago she has been one of only two female ambassadors from the Emirate posted abroad. The other, Sheikha Najla Al Qassimi, is serving in Sweden.

She is also the first female Arab head of mission in Spain and a member of the UN's International Forum for Women. Her visit to the Vatican comes at a time when the Catholic Church is reaching out to Christians in the Middle East. The Pope will meet bishops and patriarchs from churches across the region in Cyprus next month. The trip to Cyprus comes in the wake of pressure on Christians in some Islamic countries and threats to their security in conflict areas such as Iraq.

rghazal@thenational.ae