Pope arrives in the UAE in landmark visit

On Tuesday Pope Francis will deliver a mass to at the Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi

On Tuesday Pope Francis will deliver a mass to at the Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi

Pope Francis ministered on Tuesday to the thriving Catholic community in the United Arab Emirates as he concluded his historic visit to the Arabian Peninsula with the first-ever papal Mass here and a call for his flock to remain meek in following God.

During a video address Thursday, Pope Francis described the UAE as "a land that seeks to be a model of coexistence, human brotherhood and encounter between different civilizations and cultures". "A place where people find a safe place to work, live freely and where differences are respected".

Most of the UAE's population is Muslim, but the country contains about 1.2 million Christians, most of which are expatriates from India and the Philippines.

Devin Kenney, a researcher on the UAE for Amnesty International, confirms the lack of critical voices in the kingdom.

Vaidyanathan, who converted from Hinduism to Catholicism while living in Dubai, said the Emirates' religious tolerance is commendable given the trends of the region.

The UAE has however been criticised by rights groups for its involvement in a bloody Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen, where an estimated 10,000 people have been killed in four years of war.

The mass celebration is being billed as the largest show of public Christian worship on the Peninsula. Tayeb encouraged Mideast Christians to stop thinking of themselves as "minorities" and instead as "full citizens" in the Muslim-majority societies they inhabit - an admirable sentiment in a region where Christians and other minorities are often second-class citizens at best and victims of genocide at worst.

Pope Francis holds a mass at Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, February 5, 2019.

The state's tolerance-themed project, however, has its limits.

A lot of them belong to the nine Catholic Churches of the Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia that ministers to the faithful in the UAE, Yemen, and Oman.

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The bishop also thanked the Emirati authorities, especially Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, "who generously have made possible this visit and given us this space in order to have a public Mass with as many faithful as possible".

The UAE will always be a strong ally of the European Union in combating those who pervert religious ideology for their own intolerant goals.

Moreover, all imams receive their salaries from the government and - with the exception of the most senior imams - must follow official weekly guidance on the content of Friday sermons.

Last month, rights groups slammed Abu Dhabi for upholding a 10-year prison sentence for activist Ahmed Mansoor.

The Crown Prince Zayed's long-time antipathy towards Islamic activism and the Muslim Brotherhood formally became law with the UAE's new "terrorism law" in 2014. Tolerance is a vaccination against extremism and religious violence.

This has led to large-scale human rights abuses with Human Rights Watch warning that the law would be used to prosecute people exclusively for exercising their rights to free speech, association, or assembly.

"With great happiness, we welcome the arrival of my dear UAE guests". But like its neighbours, the UAE does not allow dissent or criticism of its leadership.

"The crowds included Catholics from 100 nationalities and 4,000 Muslims, " organisers said.

The kingdom has also branded the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organisation, viewing it as a threat to the country's system of hereditary rule.

The union joined other rights organisations in calling on the pope to demand the release of prisoners, end its involvement in regional wars, and lift the siege imposed on neighbouring Qatar.

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