The head of the Catholic church in the UAE has heralded Abu Dhabi's Abrahamic Family House as a unifying force for good and called for religions to be the “protagonists of peace” in a world marred by conflict.
Bishop Paulo Martinelli, the Apostolic Vicar for Southern Arabia, described the multi-faith complex as “a powerful expression” of the historic Document of Fraternity signed four years ago by Pope Francis and Dr Ahmed Al Tayeb, the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, in Abu Dhabi.
The unique site that is home to a mosque, church and synagogue, officially opens to the public next Wednesday.
Bishop Martinelli conducted the first prayer service at the His Holiness Francis Church on Sunday.
“The inauguration of this house is a cry for peace that rises towards God and towards all humanity, especially in a world seriously marked by wars and hatred,” said Bishop Martinelli, the highest-ranking Catholic official in a jurisdiction covering the UAE, Oman and Yemen.
“For our Christian community, the birth of this centre is felt to be in profound connection with the visit of Pope Francis in February 2019 and with the signing of the document on Human Fraternity.”
The document signed on February 4, 2019, he said was “a prophetic text on the way in which religions are called to relate to each other and contribute to the good of humanity. This house, it seems to me, wants to embody this spirit”.
The creation of the document also inspired a UN-recognised International Day of Fraternity, which has been held since 2021.
Bishop Martinelli said the opening of the Abrahamic House was of “exceptional importance”.
The symbols of the crescent, menorah and cross clearly visible from a distance were a call for peaceful coexistence between religions.
“Violence and hatred can never be justified in the name of God. This message is more necessary today than ever in the whole world,” said the bishop.
“The opening of this house represents a strong invitation to all people to work for peace and reconciliation, to put an end to wars and conflicts.
“Religions must be ever more protagonists of peace processes.”
The house promoted tolerance, while urging people to collaborate and exchange knowledge, he said.
“One can live together belonging to different religions, seeking the common good,” Bishop Martinelli said.
“One of the possibilities that the Abrahamic Family House offers is to meet people of different religions, dialogue with them, get to know each other, overcoming one-sided visions that prevent a real encounter and mutual esteem.”
He said the site would open the doors to better understanding and interreligious dialogue.
“This house has a strong symbolic impact,” he said.
“Certainly, the Abu Dhabi Document constitutes the soul of this house.
“I think that this house offers first of all the possibility of meeting people of different religions on a daily basis; places of worship can be visited; you can participate in prayer and celebrations.”
Respect for differences
The dramatic architectural variations of zigzag, straight and arched pillars that differentiate each place of worship also denote that differences exist.
“The Abrahamic root of the three religions is recognised, however, the clear differences are also highlighted,” he said.
“It seems to me that the whole layout of this house expresses a positive sense of religions in a profound respect for their differences.
“In fact, the invitation is not to overcome differences, but to get to know each other, respect each other, overcome prejudices, and making sure, that one's own spiritual traditions make a decisive contribution to building a more fraternal and supportive world.”
Dedicated to St Francis of Assisi
The church is dedicated to St Francis of Assisi, a saint of universal brotherhood, peace and reconciliation.
A golden crucifix placed in the middle of the prayer hall of His Holiness Francis Church signified a welcome to Christians of all denominations.
“He is the saint of dialogue and encounter. For the many Capuchin Franciscan missionaries who have been present in this country for a long time, this house is also an invitation to be witnesses of the joy of the gospel,” the bishop said.
Bishop Martinelli looked forward to cultural initiatives at the complex that would build brotherly and friendly ties.
“From the inauguration of the Abrahamic Family House, I expect to be able to walk together with brothers and sisters who belong to other religions to deepen the importance of the relationship with God and to contribute together to the building of a more fraternal and supportive society,” Bishop Martinelli said.