According to the archbishop of Vasai (India), who was invited to Abu Dhabi, Muslims are moving towards tolerance. Lebanon’s Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi, and Sunni and Shia mufts Abdellatif Deriane and Ahmad Kabalan were also invited at the meeting on "Human Brotherhood"; so was the Great Imam of Al Azhar. Globalisation is having some influence. Saudi Arabia, however, is a dark spot. Yemen is as well; its four churches are closed. A member of the Muslim Council of Elders says he would like to see the Pope in Riyadh in the future.
Abu Dhabi (AsiaNews) – The visit of Pope Francis to Abu Dhabi is a sign that Islam is changing, that it is moving towards tolerance, this according to Mgr Felix Machado, archbishop of Vasai (India).
Mgr Machado, who is in charge of ecumenism and interfaith dialogue in the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI) and has worked in the Vatican in the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, was invited by the authorities of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to attend this afternoon’s meeting on "Human Brotherhood".
Along with the pontiff, more than 600 religious leaders from around the world were invited to the event, sponsored by Emir Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan. "I see here a sign of hope for future of Interreligious dialogue in general," Mgr Machado said.
"Perhaps Christians can begin to see the fruits of dialogue,” he added. The “Mentality is changing and that is an achievement. Muslims have moved to tolerance, although that word can be interpreted negatively. But that is the part of journey of Muslims in general and in predominantly Islamic countries. The tempo needs to be kept and the Pope is here to help in the name of Christians.”
The meeting on brotherhood and the papal visit are taking place in a year the Emirate dedicated to tolerance.
At the international meeting are present the Great Imam of Al Azhar, Mohammad Tayyeb, as well as Lebanon’s Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi, along with Lebanese Sunni and Shia muftis Abdellatif Deriane and Ahmad Kabalan.
Tolerance is very much present in the UAE, which has nine churches. Another four are open in Oman, with Mass celebrated in the languages of migrant Catholics: English, Tagalog, Arabic, Malayalam, Konkani, Tamil, Urdu, German, Italian, French, Spanish and Korean. In Abu Dhabi there are also Hindu and Buddhist temples.
Some commentators in local newspapers, such as the Khaleej Times, note that tolerance is a necessity due to globalisation, which has brought millions of people of different religions and ethnic backgrounds to the UAE, giving its economy its current world-wide élan.
However, not all is rosy. There is, first of all, the situation in Yemen, where ethnic and religious strife between Shias and Sunnis since 2015 has had painful consequences for Christians as well.
In addition to the martyrdom of the Sisters of Mother Teresa in Aden in 2016, and the abduction of Fr Tom Uzhunnalil, a Salesian priest who was freed after a year and a half, we need to remember the situation of the four churches in the Yemeni cities of Sanaa, Aden, Hodeida and Taez, which are currently in war zones or closed on orders of the authorities.
The UAE are also no strangers to Yemen’s destruction since they are part of the Saudi-led coalition fighting Yemen’s Houthi.
Another dark spot is the situation of Christians and the believers of other religions in Saudi Arabia, who cannot even worship in private. Perhaps the Pope's visit to Abu Dhabi might be a catalyst in the kingdom as well.
Today, Riyadh's newspaper Arab News cited Sultan Faisal Al-Remeithi, of the Muslim Council of Elders, expressing hope that any future visit by the Pope to the Arabian Peninsula might include a stop in Saudi Arabia.
(Nirmala Carvalho contributed to this article)