VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Latest on Pope Francis’ visit to the United Arab Emirates (all times local):
Pope Francis has appealed for the end of Yemen’s humanitarian crisis, saying the “cries of these children and their parents rise up” to God.
He made the appeal at the Vatican an hour before his scheduled departure on a three-day trip to the United Arab Emirates, which is a key member of the Saudi-led coalition at war with Yemen’s Iran-aligned rebels. The conflict has driven Yemen to the brink of famine and caused the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
Francis urged faithful in St. Peter’s Square to join him in prayer, saying “these are hungry children” with no medicine, and “are in danger of dying.” Noting that many can’t reach food aid areas, he appealed to the involved parties and the international community to urgently ensure that agreements are reached and food distributed.
Francis is expected in the United Arab Emirates later Sunday, where he will become the first pontiff to visit the Arabian Peninsula.
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.