His Holiness Pope Francis, head of the Catholic Church, arrived in Abu Dhabi this evening to begin his historic visit to the United Arab Emirates.
He was received at the airport by His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, and His Eminence Dr Ahmad Al Tayyeb, Grand Imam of Al Azhar Al Sharif. A number of children lined up with bouquets of roses to welcome the Pope.
His Eminence Dr Ahmad Al Tayyeb arrived in the UAE earlier in the day and was also received by His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed.
In a statement, His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed welcomed the visit of Pope Francis and Dr Ahmad Al Tayyeb to the UAE. Expressing his great happiness, he said that the visit is especially important in promoting the values of fraternity, peace and peaceful coexistence. The visit is also significant because it reinforces ties of friendship and cooperation between the UAE and the Vatican, he said.
His Highness Sheikh Mohamed said that the UAE has been, and will continue to be, a beacon of tolerance, moderation and coexistence.
It will be a key participant in the dialogue of civilisations and cultures, he said, and will continue to oppose intolerance and extremism regardless of its origin, thus embodying the noble human values it believes in as well as the openness and moderation that has always characterised its people.
His Holiness Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Al Sharif, he said, are universally respected and appreciated for their great humanitarian role in promoting dialogue and understanding across the world and their continuing efforts to defend just causes.
They are also respected, he added, for rejecting conflict and war and promoting coexistence between people of different religious, sectarian and ethnic affiliations.
He went on to say that the visit of His Holiness Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al Azhar Al Sharif to the UAE was especially significant as it occurs in the year which President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, has declared as the Year of Tolerance.
It thus affirms that the UAE's role in spreading tolerance transcends local borders, and that the country's pioneering efforts have made it a global destination to launch civil society initiatives in support of the human fraternity.
His Highness Sheikh Mohamed said that this historic visit to the UAE sends a message to the whole world that the Arab region, the centre of the three monotheistic faiths, whose people have lived in harmony and peace for centuries, is unlike the often invoked image of extremism and terrorism.
Rather, he concluded, the Arab region comprises millions of people who believe in coexistence and dialogue and renounce violence and extremism and who are open up to the world and willing to engage with it.
The state guests were received by H.H. Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Ruler's Representative in Al Dhafra Region; Dr. Amal Abdullah Al Qubaisi, Speaker of Federal National Council, FNC; H.H. Sheikh Tahnoun bin Mohammed Al Nahyan, Abu Dhabi Ruler’s Representative in Al Ain Region; H.H. Sheikh Saif bin Mohammed Al Nahyan; H.H. Suroor bin Mohammed Al Nahyan; H.H. Sheikh Hazza bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Chairman of Abu Dhabi Executive Council; H.H. Lt. General Sheikh Saif bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior; H.H. Sheikh Tahnoun bin Zayed Al Nahyan, National Security Adviser; H.H. Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Presidential Affairs; H.H. Sheikh Hamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Chief of the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince's Court; H.H. Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation; Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Tolerance; Sheikh Dhiab bin Tahnoun Al Nahyan; Noura bint Mohammed Al Kaabi, Minister of Culture and Knowledge Development; Zaki Nusseibeh, Minister of State, and Ali Saeed Matar Al Neyadi, Chairman of the Federal Customs Authority.
His Holiness Pope Francis was accompanied by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State of His Holiness; Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches; Cardinal Fernando Filoni, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of People; Archbishop Edgar Peña Parra, Substitute of the Secretariat of State; Archbishop Francisco M. Padilla Apostolic Nuncio of the United Arab Emirates; Bishop Miguel Á. Ayuso Guixot, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue; Bishop Paul Hinder, O.F.M. Cap., Apostolic Vicar of Southern Arabia; Msgr. Gianluca Pezzoli, Official of the Secretariat of State; Fr. Simon Peter Lukyamuzi, Secretary of the Apostolic Nunciature; Fr. Michael P. O’Sullivan, Local Coordinator; Fr. Antonino Spadaro, SJ, Director of "La Civiltà Cattolica"; and Dr. Paolo Ruffini, Prefect of the Dicastery for Communication.
The Grand Imam of Al Azhar Al Sharif was accompanied by Dr. Nasr Farid Wasel, Dr. Abdel Hadi Mohamed Abdel Hadi Zare, Dr. Mohamed El-Mahrsawy and Dr. Ata Ata Sayed Ahmed, Dr. Abdullah Sarhan, Dr. Abdel Moneim Fouad, Dr. Mustafa Abdel Ghani and Dr. Nazih Abdel Maqsoud as well as other officials.