Bishop Mesrob Sarkissian
Bishop Mesrob Sarkissian attended meetings with the pope in the Vatican in 2014 and in Armenia in 2016. Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: The Pope’s visit to the UAE from Sunday to Tuesday will prompt people of all faiths across the world to make the emirates a permanent pilgrim centre, demonstrating the peaceful coexistence of different religions in one society, according to the head of the Armenian Church in the UAE.

“The world should make the UAE a permanent pilgrim location for all faiths to mark respect for the country’s religious tolerance,” Bishop Mesrob Sarkissian, Catholicosate Vicar in the UAE Armenian Church, told Gulf News.

The non-Catholic senior priest said the Pope’s visit is a testimony to the UAE’s successful initiatives for dialogue and interaction between two major monotheistic religions in the world.

“This shows the openness of the Muslim rulers of this country towards a top Christian spiritual leader,” he added. “It further reinforces the UAE’s status as an example for other Muslim countries as it shows, Muslims and Christians and people of many other faiths can live together in a peaceful society. That’s why I said the UAE should be a new permanent pilgrim location for all faiths, let everyone from across the world come here and experience it.”

The Armenian church in the UAE has two centres of worship, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi, catering to around 12,000 Armenians. Belonging to the Orthodox family, the church’s supreme head is the Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia, based in Antelias, Lebanon.

“We have historical links with the Pope. Therefore, the Pope’s visit is important to us,” he added. “This visit will enhance our good relationship with our Muslim brothers, and I am sure that this will inspire local people to know more about Christian culture, further strengthening our coexistence in a tolerant society.”

Personally, the bishop said he was very excited, as he will be meeting Pope Francis for the third time.

“This is the most important occasion in my six years living here in the UAE,” he said.

Sarkissian attended meetings with the Pope in the Vatican in 2014 and in Armenia in 2016.

“I was very surprised to experience Pope Francis’ humility and ability to touch the hearts of people he meets. He is the people’s Pope,” he said of those two previous meetings. “Even as clergy belonging to the Orthodox family, we have a lot to learn from the Pope by taking examples from him.”

For the Armenian community, this is an occasion to express their gratitude to the UAE leadership.

“Since we started coming here in the 1960s, we have enjoyed the openness and multicultural education system introduced by the government. They accepted us with love and tolerance. They went further and gave land and permitted us to build churches for our religious practice.”

The first Armenian Church was opened in Sharjah in 1998 and the second one was opened in Abu Dhabi in 2014.

“It’s a great opportunity to live in a Muslim country with all the facilities to worship our God in our own churches,” he said. “This is possible because leaders of this country are open to other religions, while keeping their own faith. That’s why their tolerant image has gained worldwide attention.”