01/28/2019, 17.59
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Christians and Muslims wait with joy for the visit of the pope, 'builder of bridges'

For about a million Catholics, the Pope's visit will be a "milestone" in interfaith dialogue and the local community’s development. The parish priest at Saint Anthony’s Cathedral describes the visit as the “crowning” of the country’s tolerance. Egyptian, Jordanian and Filipino migrants speak of their experience. The government wants  the visit to be a «Strong message" against those who use religion to divide.

Abu Dhabi (AsiaNews) – Christians in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are preparing the visit of Pope Francis with "joy and hope". The event "will contribute" to "building bridges" in an era of "growing nationalism", the country’s Tolerance Ministry said.

For about a million Christians living in the UAE, about 10 per cent of the population of the mostly Sunni country, the pontiff’s presence will be a "milestone" in inter-faith dialogue and the local community’s development.

Francis will visit Abu Dhabi from 3 to 5 February to attend an international interfaith meeting on "Human Brotherhood". For the Arabian Peninsula, this will be the first papal visit, at the invitation of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan and the local Catholic Church.

The Emirates are among the few places in the Middle East with a certain stability, albeit with some dark corners like domestic repression and its involvement in the Yemen War.

For Fr Bishoy, pastor at Saint Anthony's Cathedral in Abu Dhabi, “the Pope's visit is the ‘crowning’ of an Emirati trend of tolerance that serves as an example to the world. It’s a message of peace and progress [. . .] against fanatics and extremists.”

Salvador, a Filipino waiter in Abu Dhabi, cannot hide his joy over the papal visit. This “means a lot to me,” he said. “It’s the first of its kind. Reflecting diversity and tolerance, the whole world should embrace the UAE as an example to other countries”.

Hala Daroug, a Syrian Christian interpreter, agrees. It’s “Great that the Pope’s visit coincides with the Year of Tolerance in UAE,” she said. For her, Christians can practise their “faith freely” in this country.

“We as Filipinos feel elated with the Pope’s visit,” said Pia, another Filipino working in one of Abu Dhabi restaurants. Although he won’t be able to attend Mass, “I’ll follow it on TV,” he explained.

Jenifer, a Jordanian Christian, noted that “This is a historic visit [. . .]. We all are looking forward to His Holiness’ prayers, with joy and hope”.

Coptic Christians from Egypt are also looking forward to them. For one of them, “the visit is a natural development of the harmony and tolerance among all the people living here as if they’re at home.”

During the visit, the Holy Father will meet leading Muslim clerics, politicians and cultural leaders, noted Tolerance Minister Sheikh Nahyan Ben Mubarak Al Nahyan

The goal of papal invitation is to build bridges and break walls "that some people erect”.

“Our definition of tolerance is to understand the other, to talk to each other” and “at the same time, keep our own differences,” Al Nahyan added.

Speaking about the country, he said that it is a “beautiful mosaic, with our differences, whether in our religions or culture or other habits”.

The minister hopes that the interfaith meeting with Francis can end in a final joint declaration that will serve as a roadmap for different faiths "to create a better world".

“This is the strongest message to send to those who are trying to divide us, to those who are creating mistrust between us.”

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