Abu Dhabi, UAE: Pope Francis has landed in Abu Dhabi as part of his historic three-day visit to the United Arab Emirates, the first by any pontiff to the Arabian Peninsula.
The visit marks an effort to boost the Vatican’s outreach to Islam.
Pope Francis, who has made strengthening ties between the two largest religions a cornerstone of his papacy, is expected to have talks with the UAE’s crown prince on Monday and hold an open-air mass for 135,000 worshipers on Tuesday.
Pope Francis on Sunday called for urgent “respect” for a ceasefire accord in Yemen to allow humanitarian aid through in the conflict-weary country.
“The population is exhausted by the long conflict and many, many children are suffering from hunger but they are not able to get to food deposits. The cry of these children and their parents rises up to God,” he told tens of thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square during his regular Sunday address.
“I appeal to all sides involved and to the international community to urgently press for respect of the agreements that have been reached, to guarantee the distribution of food, and work for the good of the population.”
“There are children who are hungry, they are thirsty, they don’t have medicine,” he added.
“I am following the humanitarian crisis in Yemen with great concern,” he added.
The UAE has played a leading role in the Saudi-led military coalition waging a nearly four-year war against the Iran-aligned Houthi movement in Yemen in a conflict which has pushed the poorest country on the peninsula to the brink of famine.
The Gulf state currently has about 800,000 Catholics but few of them are citizens, they’re mostly temporary migrant workers from South and South East Asia.
“Dear people of the United Arab Emirates, Salam aleikum, peace be upon you. Faith in God unifies, not divides, bringing people closer even with their differences, while keeping them away from hostilities and aversion,” Pope Francis said in a video message.
Freedom of religion in the UAE is limited. It’s illegal for a Muslim to renounce their religion.