Recognise rights of all faiths, urges Pope Francis

Abu Dhabi: Pope Francis on Monday called for ‘the full recognition’ of rights for people of all faiths from the UAE, the first visit by the head of the Catholic church to the Arabian Peninsula.

The pope called for the ‘full recognition of the other and his or her freedom’ in a meeting with Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, the top Sunni Muslim cleric.

Religious freedom ‘is not limited only to freedom of worship but sees in the other truly a brother or sister, a child of my own humanity whom God leaves free and whom, therefore, no human institution can coerce, not even in God’s name”, Pope Francis said.

Pope rejected ‘hatred and violence’ in the name of God.’ The pontiff, who met with the world’s top Sunni Muslim cleric in Abu Dhabi, said ‘every form of violence must be condemned without hesitation… No violence can be justified in the name of religion”. The pope arrived in Abu Dhabi on Sunday night for a three-day visit, during which he will lead a historical open-air mass for some 135,000 Catholics.

Earlier, the pontiff arrived in a modest black Kia at Abu Dhabi’s presidential palace, where he was welcomed with a lavish military parade. Officers fired 21 shots in the air, while jets flew overhead leaving white and yellow trails – the colours of the Vatican City flag.

The pope’s highly publicised 48-hour visit to the United Arab Emirates will also include an open-air mass on Tuesday for 135,000 of the Muslim country’s million Catholic residents, set to be the largest public gathering in country’s history.

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 is the scene of what the UN calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, triggered by the intervention of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and their allies in a war between the government and Huthi rebels.

More than 10 million Yemenis now risk imminent starvation. Sheikh Mohammed said on Monday that UAE rulers were ‘delighted’ to meet the pontiff ‘in our homeland of tolerance.’

“We discussed enhancing cooperation, consolidating dialogue, tolerance, human coexistence and important initiatives to achieve peace, stability and development for peoples and societies,” he tweeted.