VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Latest on Pope Francis’ visit to the United Arab Emirates (all times local):
Emiratis are welcoming Pope Francis’ trip to Abu Dhabi, the first-ever papal visit to the Arabian Peninsula, where Islam was born.
The National, a state-linked, English-language newspaper in Abu Dhabi, described the pope’s three-day visit beginning Sunday as “a dream come true” for the country’s estimated 1 million Roman Catholics.
The newspaper said: “With that moment will come a lifetime of gratitude to the UAE’s rulers, who last year invited Pope Francis to visit the country and have fostered a society in which freedom of worship is afforded to all.”
While Christians can worship in churches built on land donated by the country’s rulers, proselytizing by non-Muslims is illegal. Blasphemy and apostasy laws also carry a possible death sentence.
Meanwhile, Yousef al-Otaiba, the UAE’s powerful ambassador to Washington, wrote in a Politico column that “religion today is a treacherous fault line that divides the region.”
He added: “But the true faith of Muslims, Christians and Jews has never been about hate or fanaticism. There is no clash of civilizations or ideas – only a rash of ignorance and a deficit of courage and moral leadership.”
Pope Francis is seeking to turn a page in Christian-Muslim relations while also ministering to a unique, thriving island of Catholicism as he embarks on the first-ever papal trip to the Arabian Peninsula, the birthplace of Islam.
While Francis is building on two of his priorities with his Sunday-Tuesday visit to the United Arab Emirates — promoting interfaith dialogue and visiting the Catholic peripheries — diplomatic protocol will likely dictate that he leaves other concerns behind.
The Emirates’ support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, which has caused the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, and the UAE’s problematic record on human rights and labor violations at home will likely will get a pass — at least in public.