Pope Francis chats with journalists on board his plane after taking off from Abu Dhabi. The pontiff left for Rome after his three-day visit to the UAE. Image Credit: Aled Abraham/Gulf News

On Board the Papal Flight: Pope Francis Tuesday called for a united fight against terrorism and said violence in the name of religion can never be justified.

The pontiff, in an interaction with journalists after taking off from Abu Dhabi, spoke glowingly about his visit and the hospitality extended to him in the UAE. “It is a clean and modern country and I was impressed by the flowers in the desert.”

He said he was told about the focus on education that is being given to the younger generation in the country. “As they look forward to the future, they are also keen to give a proper education to the children.”

The grand reception he received, he said, was a sign that the hosts were happy to welcome him.

The pope flew on an Etihad Airways Boeing 787 Dreamliner with a crew from 15 different countries. Captain Abdulla Obaid of the flight said: “I am very proud and thankful to have flown His Holiness Pope Francis to Rome and to be the first Emirati pilot ever to fly the Pope.”

On board the return flight to Rome Pope Francis congratulated Valentina Alazraki for covering 150 papal visits. Video by: Alex Abraham/Gulf News

On terrorism, the pontiff explained that to fight terrorism it was important to walk hand in hand, or else we will be defeated. He went back in time to explain that the first case of terrorism was that of Cain killing his brother Abel, recorded both in the Bible and in the Quran.

On Abu Dhabi Declaration, the pope said it was a document that was born from a common faith in God. “It was born in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council and was studied by scholars from both sides before being signed.”

On religious persecution, the Pope said the document signed with the Grand Imam of Al Azhar Ahmad Al Tayeb condemned all kinds of violence. He called for religious freedom “which goes beyond the freedom to attend mass but also embrace another religion”.

When asked about sexual abuse against nuns and women leaders in the church, he said the church was continuously working on the issue.