Faiths can 'walk together': UAE Catholic leader reflects on Pope's landmark visit

Bishop Paolo Martinelli urged people to be inspired by the unifying power of Pope Francis's landmark trip to the UAE in a world marred by conflict

February 4 marks five years since Pope Francis arrived in the UAE, the first visit by the head of the Roman Catholic Church to the Arabian Gulf. Getty Images
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The head of the Catholic Church in the UAE has called on people to celebrate the "prophetic" Document on Human Fraternity signed by Pope Francis on his first visit to the Gulf five years ago.

Bishop Paolo Martinelli urged people to remember the “extraordinary event” of Pope Francis’s visit to the UAE in February 2019 and the signing of a landmark document that served as a decisive guide for relations between religions.

“We want to cry out to the world that it is possible to walk together with people of different faiths, work for peace and promote a more fraternal world,” the bishop said in a statement released on Sunday.

This document is a new chapter in the history of relationships between people of different faiths
Bishop Paolo Martinelli

The Pope’s three-day visit was the first by a leader of the Roman Catholic Church to the Arabian Gulf.

The public mass at which Pope Francis addressed more than 100,000 people in Abu Dhabi and the signing of the Document of Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together on February 4, 2019 with Dr Ahmed Al Tayeb, the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, are considered momentous events that served as a blueprint for interfaith relations in the UAE and the Middle East.

“This document is a new chapter in the history of relationships between people of different faiths,” the bishop said.

“We recognise that we are different. We are called to know each other, to respect each other and to walk together promoting peace and justice, human fraternity and peaceful coexistence, the role of women in society, always safeguarding creation as a gift from God for the good of all.”

He urged people to read the document and spread its message, describing it as “a prophetic document, a milestone destined to mark the future of relations between religions”.

To mark the fifth anniversary of the signing of the Document on Human Fraternity and International Day of Human Fraternity, Pope Francis congratulated all participants in the Human Fraternity Majlis and those involved in the Zayed Award for Human Fraternity.

The pontiff also praised the unlimited support of President Sheikh Mohamed and Dr Ahmed Al Tayeb for their invaluable initiatives aimed at promoting the values of human fraternity, social solidarity, and the understanding that humans are not only equal but interconnected as brothers and sisters within one human family.

He also expressed his joy that the journey of dialogue, solidarity, and mutual respect which began in Abu Dhabi five years ago continues to spread tolerance, coexistence, and acceptance of others.

Pope Francis added that achieving human fraternity requires recognising the importance of equality among people and promoting tolerance and peaceful coexistence.

One family

The joint declaration had called for peace, serving as a guide for dialogue and collaboration between all faiths to enable the building of a culture of mutual respect for future generations.

Bishop Martinelli asked people to celebrate both the anniversary of the papal visit and the signing of the key document that gave a decisive push to interreligious dialogue.

He said the memory of the Pope visiting a church in Abu Dhabi and speaking to the worshippers awakened a “profound sense of responsibility for the church and the whole world”.

Repeating the Pope’s message of being members of one family, the bishop recalled his words at the Mass in Abu Dhabi’s Zayed Sports City stadium: "You are a choir composed of numerous nations, languages and rites."

He called on the faithful to take on diversity as a challenge so they were enriched by differences in countries, cultures, languages and traditions.

“Experiencing diversity in unity is our primary task,” the bishop said, and expressed gratitude to President Sheikh Mohamed for helping facilitate the signing of the document.

Appealing for mutual coexistence, the bishop also spoke of the need to create a more humane society, the responsibility to communicate values to the next generation.

“In this dramatic moment in the history of humanity, marked by so many conflicts, we feel the responsibility to spread the spirit of the Abu Dhabi document to everyone,” said the bishop, who lives in Abu Dhabi and heads the Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia covering the UAE, Oman and Yemen.

The Document of Human Fraternity inspired the birth of the Abrahamic Family House, inaugurated in February last year, bringing together three places of worship – a mosque, synagogue and church.

“I again invite our faithful to participate in the initiatives promoted by the Abrahamic Family House, which we support with conviction,” Bishop Martinelli said.

Updated: February 04, 2024, 7:00 PM