Pope Francis waves as he boards a plane before departure for his visit to United Arabs Emirates, at Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino Airport in Rome, Italy, February 3, 2019. REUTERS/Remo Casilli Image Credit: REUTERS

This is one of those days that truly can be described as “historic”, for never before has a leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics set foot on the Arabian peninsula, and Pope Francis is making history with his visit to the UAE, culminating when he celebrates mass in front of an expected 120,000 people in Abu Dhabi. The symbolism of the occasion and the combined with the significance of this ecumenical gesture, cannot be overstated — and is an unprecedented endorsement of this nation’s commitment to tolerance, harmony and diversity.

The UAE is a nation that is home to residents from some 200 countries, people that cherish the values and opportunities afforded here, living together in harmony and celebrating cultural diversity of our cultural differences. This cultural mosaic is held together by the value of tolerance, fostering understanding. While 2019 has been designated as the Year of Tolerance by the nation’s leaders, the visit of Pope Francis coincides with an interfaith conference, bringing together spiritual leaders to foster understanding and build interfaith dialogue and ecumenicalism. Together with the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, Ahmad Al Tayyeb, they will lay foundation stones for a new mosque and a new church, literally providing the foundation stones for growth, new structures and a new understanding of the unique relationship between faiths that cherish respect, peace and improving the lives of those in need regardless of creed, colour or circumstance.

The UAE is home to around one million Roman Catholics, and Pope Francis’ visit is significant moment for this large segment of our society. But the visit by the pontiff also comes at a time when this wider region is afflicted by extremists who seek to widen hatred and divisions. It’s a point highlighted by His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, welcoming Pope Francis. “The UAE receives Pope Francis at a time when we are in dire need of meeting on common human values, extending bridges of brotherhood and friendship, highlighting the points of similarity, uprooting factors of separation, defusing and fighting strife, hatred and religious and ethnic discrimination,” Shaikh Mohammad wrote, while thanking His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, for inviting His Holiness to participate in the Global Religions Dialogue Forum on Human Brotherhood. This visit should serve as a reminder to all of the ties that bind us in humanity, showing that we all share the same values of tolerance, peace and coexistence.