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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 February 2019

'Brother of Peace' - the world reflects on Pope's visit to UAE

Media across the globe reports on pontiff's historic trip to Abu Dhabi

Pope Francis at Zayed Sports City for Mass in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday. EPA
Pope Francis at Zayed Sports City for Mass in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday. EPA

The Pope’s visit to the UAE will be remembered fondly by the tens of thousands of Catholics who attended his public Mass.

It will also go down as a significant moment in the history of the UAE.

But it was not just those in the Emirates that took a keen interest. The Pontiff’s trip to the Middle East was covered across the world, with journalists from all over the globe descending on Abu Dhabi to report on the visit for their own viewers and listeners.

Opinion writers also lined up to offer their take on what the visit meant for relations between the Muslim and Christian worlds.

Striking images of Pope Francis embracing Dr Ahmed Al Tayeb, the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, were carried on several front pages, including Le Monde, the French publication, which is widely considered one of the most respected newspapers in the world.

In a front page article headlined ‘Pope preaches tolerance in the land of Islam’, the newspaper noted how Pope Francis had introduced himself as a ‘brother of peace’. The Pope with the Grand Imam also featured on the front pages of Clarín, the largest newspaper in Argentina, Lebanon’s Daily Star, Alahdath Almaghrebia in Morocco and El Tiempo in Columbia.

Other publications preferred images of the Pope’s arrival at the Presidential Palace, where he met with UAE leaders. Folha de Londrina and A Tarde, in Brazil, as well as Ara, in Spain, chose images of the Pope at the venue. The Maeil Business, in South Korea, published a picture of a smiling Pope alongside a waving Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince, as its main image on Tuesday.

The most newsworthy event of the Pope’s three-day visit, according to the foreign press, was his speech at the Founder’s Memorial on Monday evening. His calls for an end to warfare, and particularly his choice to speak about the conflict in Yemen, were widely reported in newspaper columns and broadcast bulletins across the world.

The New York Times, which has published several articles on the visit over recent days, said Pope Francis had ‘broken some taboos’ on the trip by mentioning sensitive topics, such as Yemen and the issue of citizenship rights for minority groups in the Middle East.

Another article in the newspaper was titled ‘Why Pope Francis’ Historic Visit to the Gulf Matters’. It said the trip would ‘shine a light on the broader role of Christianity in the Middle East’ amid persecution of minority groups in countries such as Yemen, Iraq and Syria.

Another US news outlet, Fox News, published an opinion article by Rev Johnnie Moore, who is president of American organisation The Congress of Christian Leaders, in which he lavished praise on the UAE and its leaders for making the Pope’s trip possible.

“The UAE has long been a beacon of openness, freedom and tolerance in the Islamic world” he wrote. “Those values have emanated from its famous business and tourism cities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi. But this week’s events have taken those efforts to another plane, entirely.

“They are the fodder of history, examples of profound leadership in a turbulent time, and they deserve the commendation of the entire world. They also merit the notice of the Nobel Committee.”

Najah Alotaibi, a senior analyst at the Arabia Foundation, informed a UK audience for The Independent website that Christians in the UAE celebrated Christmas and Easter openly and that rulers had donated land for churches.

Pope Francis’s visit, which comes appropriately enough at the start of the UAE’s Year of Tolerance, is a significant step for both sides,” she wrote.

“That the pope has made a decision to promote understanding between the Vatican, the Gulf, and the Islamic world can only marginalise those who promote religious extremism.”

The open-air Mass on Tuesday, which attracted around 150,000 worshippers to Abu Dhabi, was also widely covered. The Guardian, in the UK, sent a correspondent to Zayed Sports City to report on the event.

The newspaper told its readers about the emotion expatriate Catholics, many from Asia, had felt at seeing the leader of the Catholic Church. It described the Mass as “the highlight of the first ever papal visit to the Arabian Peninsula” and a “momentous day” for the faithful who were there. It reported that more than 100 nationalities were represented among the crowd, with about 4,000 Muslims in attendance.

The Pope’s journey also attracted significant attention in Italy. La Stampa reported on the Mass, noting that Francis had become “the first pontiff to walk on the sacred land of Islam.”

“He is truly welcomed with all honors, one sumptuous ceremony after another, planes in the sky exhibiting the colors the Vatican, massive yet discreet security measures, and several drones popping up here and there,” La Stampa said.

Reflecting on the Mass, the newspaper reported: "The sunny morning accompanies the event that is already history: Pope Francis celebrates in Abu Dhabi the first public Mass in the Gulf, the cradle of Islam."

Updated: February 6, 2019 07:45 PM

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