His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE, welcomes Pope Francis upon the pontiff's arrival in Abu Dhabi. Image Credit: Twitter

Abu Dhabi: His Holiness Pope Francis, head of the Catholic Church, arrived in Abu Dhabi on Sunday to begin his historic visit to the UAE.

He was received at the airport by His Highness Shaikh Mohammad 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 Shaikh Mohammad.

In a statement, Shaikh Mohammad welcomed the visit of Pope Francis and Dr Ahmad Al Tayyeb. Expressing his great happiness, he said 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.

Shaikh Mohammad 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.

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 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 Shaikh 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.

Shaikh Mohammad 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.