Pope Francis receives grand welcome on reaching UAE; becomes first pontiff to visit Arabian Peninsula

New Delhi:Pope Francis, who ina historic visit arrivedin the United Arab Emirates on Sundayto become the first ever pontiff to visit the Arabian Peninsula, was greeted with pomp and show in a welcome ceremony at the Abu Dhabi presidential palace on Monday.

Pope Francis, the first leader of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics to visit the Arabian Peninsula, will attend an interfaith meeting as part of his outreach to Muslims- in a show of religious tolerance in a Muslim region known for its restrictions on religious freedom.

The supreme pontiff arrived at the Abu Dhabi presidential palace in a simple Kia hatchback, but was greeted with an artillery salute and military flyover by a country now at war.

His trip will end on Tuesday with the first-ever papal Mass on the Arabian Peninsula, which is expected to draw some 135,000 Catholic faithful, which local media say will be the largest public gathering ever in the UAE.

Francis embarked on his trip to the Arabian peninsula, hours after making an appeal from the Vatican for urgent observation of a limited cease-fire in war-torn Yemen so that food and medicine can get to its people, who are suffering the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

The Emirates has been Saudi Arabia’s main ally in the war in Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition is fighting the country’s Houthi rebels, and Francis’ pre-trip appeal was a way for him to avoid embarrassing his hosts with a public denunciation of the humanitarian costs of the war while in the region.

The pope was expected to raise the issue of Yemen, devastated by a war in which the UAE is a key player, in talks with Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed.

Yemen has been facing ravaged by war triggered by the intervention of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and their allies in a battle between the government and the Houthi rebels.

Reacting on Pope’s historic arrival, Sheikh Mohammed said on Monday that UAE rulers were delighted to meet him. Mohammed bin Rashid & I were delighted to meet with Pope Francis in our homeland of tolerance. We discussed enhancing cooperation, consolidating dialogue, tolerance, human coexistence & important initiatives to achieve peace, stability and development for peoples and societies”, he tweeted.

Pope Francis, who made history when he touched down in Abu Dhabi on Sunday night, had tweeted while embarking on his trip : “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.”