When I saw the photo of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed with Pope Francis in the Vatican on Thursday, I was overjoyed. Here was a meeting of two men of different religious and cultural backgrounds, but who share common goals and common interests.
In the UAE, Sheikh Zayed’s legacy of tolerance and mutual understanding between people of different religious beliefs and nationalities continues. The UAE is an island of peace and tolerance in a region where radical groups are undermining the tradition of peaceful coexistance. For his part, Pope Francis, as head of the worldwide Catholic Church, stresses the basic values for our common house: the world as God’s creation and gift to humanity. There is a deep understanding in our two religions, Christianity and Islam, that human life has to be protected, family life fostered, poverty overcome and justice and peace made the main concern of every political action.
Over more than 12 years in the UAE as bishop of Catholics in this country, in Oman and in Yemen, I have followed the progress in building up this nation and in establishing laws that help not only to maintain the values of the past but also to further develop social cohesion. The common interests between Christianity and Islam are much bigger than the sometimes negative historical burdens. As a Christian, I am sad to see that Muslims are the main victims of criminal, so-called Islamist, radicals. Before God we all have a duty to do everything possible so that the name of God is not abused to justify killings. The name of God and the dignity of human beings deserve protection from every godless assault.
I am sure that the two great men who met in the Vatican on Thursday took the opportunity to foster common understanding and to deepen relationship. From my side, I can give assurance – and I think I also speak on behalf of the other Christian churches – that we are willing to partake in building a just and peaceful society. We shall continue to contribute as far as we can to the education of less-privileged people. Following the intention of Pope Francis, we will do our best to help people struggling in their daily life. Finally, we continue to pray for the political and religious leaders that they may continue to work in favour of a harmonious and just society.
The writer is Bishop of the Catholic Church, Abu Dhabi