090203 declaration signing
Pope Francis (L) and Dr Ahmad Al Tayeb, Grand Imam of Al Azhar (R) signed a Human Fraternity document, called ‘Abu Dhabi Declaration’ at the Founders Memorial in Abu Dhabi. Image Credit: AFP


Watch: Inter-religious meet at Founders Memorial


Abu Dhabi declaration signed 

A Human Fraternity document, called ‘Abu Dhabi Declaration’, was signed by Pope Francis and Dr Ahmad Al Tayeb, Grand Imam of Al Azhar.

The declaration was signed during the Human Fraternity Meeting, held at the Founder’s Memorial, coinciding with the Global Conference on Human Fraternity,

His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, launched the first edition of the Human Fraternity Award during the event.

“We celebrate today the signing of the human fraternity document, and we are delighted that it is signed in the UAE, the heaven of peace, interfaith-tolerance and human fraternity,” the Vice President said. “I am also pleased to announce the Human Fraternity Award, and give it to the Pope and Grand Imam of Al Azhar,” he added.

Pope Francis speaks at inter-religious meet in Abu Dhabi

Pope Francis speak in Abu Dhabi 20190204
Image Credit: Alex Abraham/ Gulf News

Pope Francis emphasized the need for religious freedom in his speech. “The courage of otherness is the heart of dialogue, which is based on sincerity of intentions. Prayer for one another is important. We will either build the future together or there will not be a future,” he said.

"Education and violence are inversely proportional. Justice is the second wing of peace, which often is not compromised by single episodes, but is slowly eaten away by the cancer of injustice. Here the desert has flourished not just for a few days in a year, but for many years to come. This country, in which sand and skyscrapers meet, continues to be an important crossroads" he said.

Pope Francis also talked about 'demilitarising the human heart'. "Weapons bring nothing but death. Let us oppose war with the sweet power of prayer and daily commitment to dialogue," he said.

Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid speaks

Pope arrives for inter-religious meeting

Pope Francis has now arrived at the Founder’s Memorial for an inter-religious meeting.

Shaikh Nahayan arrives for meeting

Guests arrive at Founders Memorial

Papal visit guests at Founders memorial 20190204
Image Credit: Alex Abraham/Gulf News

Guests take their seats for the interreligious meeting at the Founders Memorial.

Pope Francis at the Shaikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi

Pope Francis is now at the Shaikh Zayed Grand mosque where he is meeting members of the Muslim Council of Elders.

Mohammad Bin Rashid, Mohammad Bin Zayed receive Pope Francis at Presidential Palace

His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, and His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, received here on Monday His Holiness Pope Francis of the Catholic Church, who is on an official visit to the country.

On his arrival at the Presidential Palace in Abu Dhabi, accompanied by cavalry mounted on Arabian horses, Pope Francis was accorded a 21-gun salute, followed by the playing of the anthems of The Vatican and the United Arab Emirates. The UAE Air Force aerobatic display team, Al Fursan, flew over the Presidential Palace, painting the Vatican flag in the clouds to celebrate the visit.

During the ceremony, Their Highnesses welcomed the visit of Pope Francis to the country and expressed happiness at the historic visit of a man famed for peace and love across the world. They expressed confidence that the visit would contribute to dialogue, brotherhood, coexistence, cooperation and respect among all human beings, and would enhance peace and security for people across the world.

Book of Honour

His Holiness Pope Francis greeted UAE dignitaries, including Shaikhs and ministers, while His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum and His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan shook hands with the official delegation accompanying the Pope.

After his meeting with Shaikh Mohammad, Pope Francis signed the ‘Book of Honour' and presented a framed medallion by the artist Daniela Longo.

The medallion depicts the encounter between St. Francis of Assisi and the Sultan Malek el-Kamel, which took place in 1219, an episode narrated in the ninth chapter of the ‘Legenda Maior' – one of the most important manuscripts of the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Roma detailing the official biography of St Francis.

A Latin inscription of the Apostolic visit can be found around the border of the medallion, whose imagery highlights the purpose of the trip, human fraternity and dialogue. WAM

Prospects of joint cooperation discussed

Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid and Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed discussed on Monday with Pope Francis of the Catholic Church, friendship and cooperation relations between the UAE and Vatican.

They also discussed ways to boost existing cooperation to serve humanitarian issues and promote values of tolerance, dialogue and coexistence among peoples of the world; in addition to a number of issues of mutual concern.

During the meeting held at the Presidential Palace in Abu Dhabi, both sides reviewed the prospects of joint cooperation and their efforts to consolidate values of brotherhood, dialogue and coexistence which are upheld by all religions in order to achieve security, stability and peace for the countries of the region and the world.

They also discussed ways to promote human civilization and enlightened thought and countering extremist ideas and religious hatred.

The UAE leaders expressed their happiness at the Pope’s visit to the UAE, which is a culmination of the UAE efforts to spread values of brotherhood, coexistence and peace among the various peoples of the world. They noted that this visit gives unprecedented impetus to the convergence and acceptance of the other and all cultures. In addition it also represents an opportunity to discuss, and exchange views on wide range of issues that help strengthen bilateral relations and consolidate the values of dialogue, coexistence and human brotherhood.

“Supporting security, peace and stability is one of the most important goals for the UAE since its establishment by the late Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, out of its belief that it is springboard for countries’ development and prosperity,” Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid and Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed said.

For his part, Pope Francis expressed his happiness at visiting the UAE, pointing out that his visit represents a new stage in the history of humanitarian brotherhood between the peoples of the world and relations between different religions.

He also commended Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed’s invitation to participate in the “Meeting of Human Brotherhood,” With Dr Ahmad Al Tayyeb, Grand Imam of Al Azhar Al Sharif, in the land of peace, coexistence and security, a country that respects the difference between civilizations, cultures and religions. He pointed to the role of the late Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan in establishing these noble human values and instilling them in his people.

At the end of the meeting, the two sides called for strengthening cooperation between various regional and international organizations and bodies in order to formulate initiatives and visions that promote values of effective and constructive dialogue among cultures and emphasize the importance of respecting beliefs and promoting a culture of tolerance and peace.

They also stressed the urgent need of the world to double efforts to sow the seeds of human brotherhood and coexistence among all peoples to further consolidate security, peace and stability, as well as confront attempts to defame religions and incite religious hatred

They expressed their hope that the message of brotherhood that had been launched from the UAE would map out a road map for dialogue, fraternity, harmony and coexistence between different nations, peoples and religions.

Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid and Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed presented Pope Francis with a memorial gift, a box made of leather, containing the first document issued by the late Shaikh Shakhbout Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, Ruler of Abu Dhabi, when he gifted a plot in the western side of Abu Dhabi to the Catholic Church on June 22, 1963. It also contains a historical picture of Shaikh Shakhbut with, Archbishop of Abu Dhabi and the Arabian Gulf at that time.

Pope Francis presented a commemorative medal. The first side is a picture of a meeting between St. Francis and King Kamel Al Ayyuobi - a meroitic event in the legend of "Legenda Major" - and on the other side a Latin inscription about the papal visit. WAM

Pope Francis landed in the UAE on Sunday evening. On his first historic trip to the country, which is also the first by a Pope to the Arabian Peninsula, Gulf News International Editor Alex Abraham joined his entourage.  

Official welcome ceremony for Pope Francis at the Presidential Palace Video by: Alex Abraham/Gulf News

On Monday he will meet His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, at whose invitation he is making the Apostolic journey.

A military band plays before select members of the armed forces take their places Videoby: Alex Abraham/Gulf News

The Pope will attend the 'International Interfaith Meeting on Human Fraternity' the same day.

On Tuesday he will conduct mass for an estimated 135,000 people at Zayed Sports City and then leave for Rome at 1pm.

Follow our live coverage as we keep you updated on the visit (all UAE time)

Monday: 12.10 pm

On the second day of his historic three-day visit to the UAE, Pope Francis headed to the Presidential Palace in Abu Dhabi for an official welcome ceremony. The ceremony saw Rulers of the Emirates welcome the Pontiff. It was also punctuated by a fly past and a march past that as a military band played on.

Later in the day, the Pontiff, who arrived in the UAE capital on Sunday (February 3, 2019) at 10pm, will be meeting members of the Muslim Council of Elders in the Shaikh Zayed Grand Mosque.

International Editor Alex Abraham was on the ‘Shepherd One’ flight where he met the Pontiff.

Monday, 11.25am

The official welcome ceremony for Pope Francis at the Presidential Palace. Video by: Alex Abraham/Gulf News
190204 Pope UAE trip
Pope UAE trip Image Credit: Pool photo

We are waiting at the Presidential Palace for the official welcome to Pope Francis. The flags of the UAE and the Vatican together are a sign of friendship and peace.

Sunday, 9.50pm

Pope Francis lands in Abu Dhabi. Begins historic visit to the UAE.

Sunday, 9pm (on board the Papal plane)

Just before Pope Francis met us, he said his visit to the UAE would be a short one. "This morning I heard that it is raining in Abu Dhabi which people there see as a sign of blessing," the Pope said.

He then said he would give out a picture card designed by Monastero Di Bose, an ecumenical community in Italy. The picture shows a young man carrying an old man on his back.

It signifies the importance of dialogue between the young and the old and that young people can carry the dreams of the older generation forward.

Sunday, 7.30pm (on board the Papal plane)


The pope shook hands with all of us on board and listened patiently to what we had to say.  The Pope walked down one of the ailes till the back of the plane and then walked back on the other aile meeting those seated there.

All cameras are down now and everyone's settling down for a meal.

It was amazing to see that the Pope was keen to meet us holding our hands till the conversation was over.

Sunday, 6.30pm

Pope Francis came around to the back of the plane a few moments ago and met the journalists on board. It gave us a chance to interact briefly with the Pope.

My thoughts: What a humble man! And what grace on his face!

Alex Abraham greets the Pope
Alex Abraham greets the Pope. Image Credit: Gulf News

Why would the head of a church with 1.2 billion members and the head of state want to meet every single person on board? True humility.

Sunday 3.30pm  

On-board the Papal flight to the UAE — it's a Boeing 777 operated by Alitalia.

Sunday 2.40pm  

Before I board, let me answer the question I posed some time ago.

Why do most places in Rome have 'via' in their name?

Answer: Via means Road in Italian.

Sunday 1.58pm UAE time

Most of the 60 journalists are waiting at the gate. It's my first trip on the Papal flight and I am excited.

Just met Cindy Wooden who said this is her 50th trip. Wow!

190203 Cindy Wooden
Cindy Wooden travelled with the Pope for the first time in 1990 to Malta. She has done 50 trips so far. Image Credit: Alex Abraham/Gulf News

She said there is another person who has done 150 trips starting with Pope John Paul.

Valentina Alazraki
Valentina Alazraki from Mexico who has done 150 trips on the Papal flight. Image Credit: Alex Abraham/Gulf News
Valentina Alazraki talks to Alex Abraham Video by: Alex Abraham/Gulf News

Sunday, 1.50pm UAE time

After Priority check-in and security check, waiting.....

190203 airport return
At the airport Image Credit: Alex Abraham/Gulf News

I can enjoy this calm for another couple of hours and then there'll be plenty to do.

By the way, my colleagues and I seem to be the only ones on our phones. All the others look so relaxed. Well, they are not covering the Papal trip!

Sunday, 1.15pm UAE time

190302 on the way back
From the road Image Credit: Alex Abraham/Gulf News

Had a comfortable drive to the airport. Wish the weather yesterday had been as good as today's.

Sunday, 12.08pm UAE time

All my bags are packed and I'm almost ready to go. Waiting for the taxi to take me to Fiumicino airport in Rome. We fly out on the Papal plane at 1pm and are expected to land in Abu Dhabi at 10pm local time.

It's a holiday here today so the roads look deserted. Most shops are closed. The rain has eased and the weather is beautiful.

It's going to be hectic over the next few days.

The answer to my question posed yesterday.

Where was the world's largest papal mass held?

Answer: Manila, Philippines, 2015. An estimated 6 million people attended.

New question: why do most places in Rome have 'via' in their name?

Sunday, 4am (Rome)

I was jolted awake an hour ago thinking about all the events that lie ahead. My body is still working on UAE time (7am there).

In about five hours from now I will leave for the airport to check in and then board the Papal flight. The excitement is palpable.

Saturday, 9.30pm

I'm back in the warm confines of the hotel where I'm staying. The building is more than 100 years old.

In this video, I'll give you the answer to the question I posed in an earlier video.

But, there's another question for you to answer. Watch till the very end.

Saturday, 7.20pm

It was a wet, cold day at the Vatican. I set out in the morning to collect my press badge and the documents for the Papal flight. After that we had a briefing at the Holy See Press Office.

We were briefed about some of the things that we needed to remember as part of the media group.

A few pictures and videos later I am back in the warm confines of the hotel. What amazed me was the patience with which hundreds of people stood in line to enter the Sistine Chapel despite the heavy rain throughout the day.

Alex Abraham/Gulf News
190202 St Peter's Basilica at the Vatican
St Peter's Basilica at the Vatican Image Credit: Alex Abraham/Gulf News
Hundreds of people braved the rains at the Vatican on Saturday to enter the museum and the Sistine chapel, a large papal chapel built within the Vatican between 1477 and 1480 — whose ceiling was painted by Michelangelo between 1508 and 1512, a cornerstone work of High Renaissance art. Image Credit: Alex Abraham/Gulf News

Saturday, 12.03pm (UAE time)

Friday 8.30pm

A look around Rome

The flight from Dubai to Rome was a quiet and comfortable one. I found time in the afternoon to visit the Colosseum.

The Colosseum, which could hold up to 80,000 spectators, is depicted on the Italian version of the five-cent euro coin.

I was spellbound by the structure and remembered the story of a monk named Telemachus. He was so horrified by the gladiator games that he tried to physically stop the fighting in 404 AD.

The spectators were upset and they stoned him to death.

This moved the emperor so much that he put a ban on the practice. Telemachus was made a saint.

Friday 8.30am

A blessed occasion for all

As I wait for the A380 to take off to Rome a thousand thoughts and emotions swirl through my mind. In two days Pope Francis will make a historic visit to the UAE. And I think of the thousands of people getting ready to attend mass. It's going to be a blessed occasion for all.

Alex Mathew on board the Emirates plane to Vatican 20190201
Alex Abraham on board the Emirates plane to Vatican Image Credit: Gulf News