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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 February 2019

Papal visit: Pope Francis lands in Abu Dhabi for historic first Gulf trip

The Pope has sent a strong message about religious tolerance, a message he will carry throughout his trip

Pope Francis landed in Abu Dhabi on Sunday to begin a historic three-day visit in what was the first by a leader of the Roman Catholic Church to the Arabian Peninsula.

He touched down in his “Shepherd One” aircraft – an Alitalia Boeing B777 on which The National was aboard – at Abu Dhabi Presidential Airport at 9.47 p.m. local time where he was greeted by Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces and then Dr Ahmed Al Tayeb, Grand Imam of Al Azhar Al Sharif University and Chairman of the Muslim Council of Elders.

Ahead of his flight to the Gulf, Pope Francis tweeted: “I am about to leave for the United Arab Emirates. I am visiting that Country as a brother, in order to write a page of dialogue together, and to travel paths of peace together. Pray for me!”

Arriving in the UAE for the landmark trip, the pope sent a strong message about the importance of religious tolerance, a message which he will carry throughout his trip.

Messages of welcome have been exchanged between the Pope and the rulers of the UAE over the days leading up to the historic visit.

"We warmly welcome you Holy Father, Pope Francis," Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Commander of the Armed Forces Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed wrote on Twitter.

"It is with immense joy that I prepare to meet and greet the children of [UAE Founding Father Sheikh] Zayed in the land of Zayed," the Pope said in a video message in advance of the visit.

Over three days the Pope will celebrate interfaith relations and host a public mass for Catholics living in the Arabian Peninsula, approximately one million of which live in the UAE.

On Monday, the first full day of his landmark trip, Pope Francis will meet with Sheikh Mohamed, at the Presidential Palace before holding interfaith meetings, including a private gathering with the Muslim Council of Elders at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. He will then head to the mosque’s courtyard to visit the tomb of the late founding father of the UAE.

On Tuesday, he will take part in a private visit to St Joseph’s Cathedral before hosting a public outdoor mass at Zayed Sports City, which is expected to draw a crowd of 120,000.

Before his departure from Rome, and as excitement built in the UAE about his first ever visit, the pontiff delivered his regular Sunday address from the Vatican City.

The humanitarian crisis in Yemen and the fragile UN-brokered truce formed a key part of a speech Pope Francis made before he departed for Abu Dhabi.

"I've followed with great concern the humanitarian crisis in Yemen," the pontiff said from the balcony of the Apostolic Palace at The Vatican, adding "the population is exhausted by the long conflict and many children are suffering from hunger, but are unable to access food supplies ... I call on the parties involved and the international community to urgently observe the agreements and assure the distribution of food and work for the good of the population."

Updated: February 4, 2019 12:21 AM

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