Grand Imam Urges Muslims to 'Embrace' Christians Amid Pope Francis' UAE Visit

Pope Francis celebrates a holy mass as part of the 23rd World Day for Consecrated Life

Pope Francis celebrates a holy mass as part of the 23rd World Day for Consecrated Life

"It is my hope that you will be like this, rooted in Jesus and ready to do good to those around you".

He also praised the courage of a little girl who broke through the police barricades to hand-deliver a letter to the pope as he zoomed around Abu Dhabi's sports stadium before Mass in his pope mobile.

Pope Francis had arrived: The people's pope on a quest for fraternity, asking for a unity of faiths.

In a keynote speech to an interfaith gathering in the United Arab Emirates, Francis warned that the future of humanity was at stake unless religions come together to resist the "logic of armed power. the arming of borders, the raising of walls".

Pope Francis, the leader of the world's Catholics, and Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, the head of Sunni Islam's most prestigious seat of learning, signed a historic declaration calling for peace among nations, religions and races on Monday.

"I am thinking in particular of Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Libya".

Francis' visit, 800 years after his peace-loving namesake St. Francis of Assisi visited an Egyptian sultan, marked the culmination of years of Holy See efforts to improve relations with the Muslim world after they hit a low during the papacy of Pope Benedict XVI.

Pope Francis stepped out of his understated black auto and shook hands with Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb, the imam of Al-Azhar, they posed for photos and then walked into the vast white place of worship through huge doors.

Four thousand Muslims also attended the mass.

"I call on the concerned parties and the worldwide community to assure the distribution of food and work for the well-bring of Yemeni people", Francis said. On Sunday, before leaving Rome for Abu Dhabi, Francis said he was following the situation in Yemen "with great concern", and that the population was "exhausted by the lengthy conflict, and a great many children are suffering from hunger".

The UAE is now part of the Saudi-led military coalition waging war in Yemen.

The Catholic Church estimates as many as 1 million of the over 9 million living in the UAE are Catholic, almost all of them foreigners drawn to the oil-rich federation to work in everything from white-collar finance to construction.

A worshipper carries the Palestinian flag during mass, led by Pope Francis, for an estimated 170,000 Catholics at the Zayed Sports City Stadium on February 5, 2019.

In the UAE, a Muslim majority country, we are proud of our diversity.

The Pope's meeting with palace officials comes at a delicate political time for the UAE, which is involved in a coalition with Saudi Arabia in a war in Yemen.

More than 85 percent of the UAE population are expatriates, and about one million Catholics live in the country, or about 10 percent of the population.

"Without freedom, we are no longer children of the human family, but slaves", Francis said.

Shortly afterwards Francis departed for Abu Dhabi, where he will be a guest of Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan.

"For me as a Christian, this is one of the most important days of my life", said Thomas Tijo, a 44-year-old from India's southern state of Kerala, who lives in the UAE and travelled by bus in the early hours to get to the stadium.

Despite making some reforms, the kafala (visa sponsorship) system continues to tie migrant workers to their employers - meaning those who leave their employer can face punishment for "absconding".

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