Expo 2020 Dubai: Tolerance more vital than ever post-Covid, forum hears

Priests and diplomats speak of need for coexistence and a unified world

Building bridges of peace and cultural harmony will be vital in the years ahead, religious leaders and ministers said during an Expo 2020 Dubai meeting on tolerance.

During the conference, held online on Tuesday, religious leaders in the UAE and diplomats in Rome spoke of the need for coexistence.

They highlighted the recent Abraham Accord and the Human Fraternity Document signed by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al Azhar last year as part of pledges for a unified world.

Bishop Paul Hinder, the Pope’s most senior representative in the Arabian Peninsula, said it was crucial to sustain interreligious and diplomatic dialogue.

He said different religious groups around the world were being called to break down walls that separated ethnic groups and nations.

“Time has come that alliances be formed by those who are ready and strong enough to address the challenges,” he said.

In the UAE, we have embraced the principles of multiculturalism and inclusivity from the moment of our inception as a nation

“This means to overcome conflict, to conquer injustice and poverty, to respect dignity and fundamental rights of all human beings, citizens and migrants alike.”

He quoted Pope Francis to emphasise that dialogue would help forge friendship as a path towards a peaceful future for all nations and religious groups.

“Almost two years ago the Document of Human Fraternity was signed in Abu Dhabi. In the meantime, we witnessed the Abraham Accord, which promoted initiatives not only on diplomatic and economic but also cultural and religious levels. It was unthinkable only a few years back,” he said.

“It is crucial to maintain this for the post-pandemic time.”

Reem Al Hashimy, UAE Minister of State for International Co-operation, said the UAE was an example of an inclusive society that embraced differences.

She said the Expo would be “a platform for all voices from all backgrounds to be heard clearly and equally".

Members of The Higher Committee of Human Fraternity, with Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al Azhar. Courtesy: The Higher Committee of Human Fraternity

“In the UAE, we have embraced those principles of multiculturalism and inclusivity from our moment of inception as a nation. It is a part of our DNA, of our soul,” said Ms Al Hashimy, also the director general of Expo 2020 Dubai.

“While Arabic may be our mother tongue, all the languages of the world are heard every day on our streets, in our souqs, in shops and in offices and schools.”

The online event was a preview of thematic weeks that will be held next year when the Expo opens its doors in October.

As part of the Connecting Souls initiative of the Italian pavilion, leading religious figures will be invited to discuss brotherhood and joint initiatives.

Pietro Sebastiani, Italian ambassador to the Holy See that operates from Vatican City, said the Fraternity Document is a symbol of interfaith dialogue that will be important in the years ahead.

“Italy considers inter-religious dialogue as an indispensable tool to foster mutual understanding and promote respect for diversity, thus defending the crucial role of religions to ensure peace and mutual understanding, especially among countries and territories in deep crisis,” he said.

Alberto Melloni, professor of the history of Christianity at the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia in Italy, said religion and cultures could be used for good or to create discrimination and violence.

"Dialogue is not to simply express intention but a very political move to make for peaceful cohabitation as the pact of Abraham showed us this year," he said.

The landmark Abraham Accord was signed in September at the White House to normalise ties between the UAE and Bahrain with Israel.

Since the move, UAE and Israeli companies signed deals to share expertise in sectors including technology, security and health care.