Pope Francis and Dr Ahmad Al Tayeb, Grand Imam of Al Azhar Al Sharif
Pope Francis and Dr Ahmad Al Tayeb, Grand Imam of Al Azhar Al Sharif. Image Credit: WAM

From the very first moments of his elevation as spiritual leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, Pope Francis has chosen to live in the footsteps of the saint who inspired him and after whom the new pontiff took his papal name. For Pope Francis, his leadership is based on simplicity. And his spirituality is based on this simplicity too — we are all equal. And the essence is that we share our love for one another in our thoughts, prayers and daily actions.

During this historic visit to the UAE, that is a message that His Holiness brings. And it is also a message shared with the Muslim Council of Elders, headed by the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, Ahmad Al Tayyeb. Both Islam and Christianity share a common link to the sacrifice of Ebrahim, or Abraham as he is called in the western tradition. Together, both share a common message, that respect and love for fellowmen is pivotal, and that eternal happiness is assured by our following this most basic tenet. Here in the UAE, much has been written about the people from more than 200 nations that live under this green, red, black and white tent, sharing our values of tolerance and respect for all. The message brought by Pope Francis, and the gospel that he preaches, sit easy too in this tent of tolerance.

As he visited the Presidential Palace in Abu Dhabi yesterday — by its very definition an occasion of great ceremony, honour and circumstance — Pope Francis chose to arrive in a simple vehicle. This gesture is in keeping with walking in the footsteps of Saint Francis of Assisi, a man who dedicated his life to helping others, tending to the sick, feeding and clothing the poor. It also serves to remind us all that while the material possessions of this world are indeed to be welcomed, there is much greater work that needs to be done. And certainly, here in the UAE, that is a message too that has been taken to heart from the very first days that the founders of this nation laid the foundation stones for growth. Pope Francis’ visit here is a reminder that we all have a duty to reach out to those in need, to provide shelter and succour for those afflicted by humanitarian crises, natural disasters or social unrest.

The simple message of love and respect brought by the Vicar of Rome is indeed timely and poignant too as he becomes the first pontiff to visit the Arabian peninsula. Regardless of creed, it is a message that needs to be heard and adhered to by those who have evil in their hearts and extremism in their minds.