Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Tolerance, says that religion is a positive force in the world and, in the UAE, everyone is free to practice their faith in peace.
He further says that the UAE’s focus next year will be on the promotion of peaceful coexistence and open, respectful dialogue among the country’s diverse population.
"Our focus should always be on bringing down the walls of misunderstanding and reviving the traditions of tolerance and useful exchange of ideas and concerns," Sheikh Nahyan told the Abu Dhabi daily, 'The National', in an interview.
He said that the announcement declaring 2019 as the Year of Tolerance by President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan could not have been more perfectly timed, with the year making a strong start with a landmark visit to Abu Dhabi from Pope Francis scheduled in February, the first trip to the Gulf by any Catholic pontiff. "It is indeed an honour to welcome His Holiness the Pope to our country," Sheikh Nahyan said.
"The visit of Pope Francis is a celebration of the value of dialogue among peoples of different religions and beliefs. It clearly shows that dialogue does not require us to abandon our identities but it means holding our deepest differences not in isolation, but in relationship to one another."
The pope’s highly publicised visit will include delivering Mass to more than 100,000 people.
"We look forward to seeing the Sheikh Zayed Sports City full of worshippers," Sheikh Nahyan said.
The tolerance established within the country is the result of a strong foundation, he said, adding, "When the late Sheikh Zayed established our nation, he acted on the strong belief that honest, good-faith dialogue among people of diverse cultures and backgrounds will help to make our society to be peaceful and prosperous."
The minister said that in schools, young men and women are being trained to become "Champions of Tolerance". Young people will have a key role to play during the Year of Tolerance, he added.
Plans for the Year of Tolerance are now being developed with the aim of promoting understanding in all forms of communication, he added.
The Ministry of Tolerance will organise activities, with its many partners, that satisfy the goals outlined by the President and the Cabinet-approved National Tolerance Programme.
"The declaration and the programme focus on five major areas: the government as an incubator of tolerance; the family and tolerance; youth and tolerance; research and knowledge development; and the UAE’s international obligations in the field of tolerance and coexistence," Sheikh Nahyan said.
Sheikh Nahyan called on all religious, ethnic and community groups to get involved and to take part in the planned initiatives and activities to make the year a success.