A Roman Catholic Bishop has been seated in the United Arab Emirates since 1974. St. Joseph’s Cathedral is the seat of the Apostolic Vicar of Southern Arabia, Bishop Paul Hinder. St. Joseph’s was established nine years earlier, six years before the late Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahayan united the Emirates as a nation in 1971. Over one million Christians (about one-ninth of the current UAE population) live and work in our country. While many different Christian faiths worship in churches throughout the UAE, most of the Christian population is Roman Catholic.
We Muslims recognise the importance of the impending visit by Pope Francis. He is signalling that tolerance, compassion, and dialogue enable understanding and peace. He is appreciating adventurous, good-willed Christians who are engaging Muslims and people of many other faiths. Pope Francis is admiring the beauty of a peaceful global community composed of people from some 200 countries. He is joining us all in praising our Creator for making each of us a unique individual and bridging our differences with universal values.
Our global community is grateful that Pope Francis has so graciously accepted the invitation of His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, to visit the United Arab Emirates. The Crown Prince’s invitation comes from the heart of a leader whose tolerance mirrors that of our founder, the late Shaikh Zayed, who knew that the UAE needed the help of talented and ambitious men and women of sound moral character, irrespective of their nationality, religion, culture, ethnicity or economic status. Shaikh Zayed acted on that knowledge and imparted it to the Crown Prince whose energy, vision and commitment to tolerance and peace have enabled all of us to appreciate the role that the United Arab Emirates play on the world stage. His ideas and aspirations are grounded in solid values, and his commitment to global peace remains unshakable.
Shaikh Mohammad epitomises the hopes and dreams of all people in the United Arab Emirates, for he is not only a role model for our country's composite culture but also a beacon of light that illuminates our future. He is truly "a quintessential leader."
In the UAE, our momentum toward being a tolerant, peaceful, and prosperous society is well established under the leadership of President His Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, with the formidable support of His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, and of His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Under their wise leadership, the UAE embodies tolerance and cooperation in a world characterised by heightened tension and increased divisions. Imbued with Shaikh Zayed’s wisdom, they lead a country filled with countless mosques and Islamic centres that are complemented by Hindu and Jain temples, a Sikh Gurdwara, a Buddhist temple, and numerous Christian churches Roman Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox. The country’s most recently inaugurated house of worship is a synagogue in Dubai.
Pope Francis will be visiting a nation that has learned the instrumental value of tolerance. We Emiratis have welcomed the world to the United Arab Emirates. Our remarkably diverse population lives and works in peaceful and productive harmony, sheltered safely by a welcoming Arab tent. The willingness of us all Emiratis and foreigners to engage with people different from ourselves in a spirit of respect and empathy has ensured our success. We talk to one another. We learn from one another. We have come to understand and accept our differences. We have discovered the values that we share. We have deepened our appreciation of our own convictions and now comprehend them in a global context. We have come to know one another, and we are better for knowing all the different others.
The diverse individuals in our population most prominently share an intense commitment to peace. As Pope Francis becomes the first Pope to travel to the Arabian Peninsula, he will find a global society that treasures the theme of his visit: "Make me a channel of your peace!" That theme, taken from the opening words of the Prayer of Peace of St. Francis, expresses our own hope that the visit of Pope Francis to the United Arab Emirates will reinforce the peace with which we have been blessed.
We know that his visit will inspire us to redouble our efforts to nurture tolerance in the UAE and to avail our country of the opportunities created by the spirit of tolerance. Perhaps Pope Francis sensed our resolve to be a pluralistic global society when the Crown Prince had the privilege of visiting the Vatican and talking with the Pope in 2016. The Pope would have noted the seriousness of that resolve when he learned that our leaders had established a Ministry of Tolerance. I hope such knowledge encouraged him to accept the invitation to visit the UAE. The visit of Pope Francis will also now occur in the ‘Year of Tolerance’, since Shaikh Khalifa declared on 15th December that the UAE will officially mark 2019 as the ‘Year of Tolerance’.
I hope the Pope admires a country which has recognised that tolerance is not a natural state and is not easy to achieve and sustain. An ever-healthy tolerance requires constant cooperation and commitment from individuals and groups, from governments and the private sector. It requires the kind of international inter-faith dialogue in which the Pope will participate during his visit. Such dialogue encourages and enables empathy and compassion of the sort implied by the Golden Rule. Such dialogue is essential to the concept of Human Fraternity advocated by the Pope.
We in the UAE have glimpsed the glory of Human Fraternity and are deeply honoured to welcome its foremost champion. Both the Vatican and the United Arab Emirates embrace diversity and recognise the special talents and attractions of various population elements of the global society. It is indeed an honour to welcome His Holiness the Pope to our country. We are proud to welcome him as a friend, as an advocate for global peace and dialogue and as a representative of a great world religion. It is with great appreciation for this historic visit that I say thank you, Pope Francis and thank you, Mohammad Bin Zayed.