VATICAN CITY // Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed and Pope Francis held discussions on strengthening existing links and promoting the acceptance of others’ beliefs.
“We are working together on promoting and enabling, for peace and stability to prevail throughout the world,” said Sheikh Mohammed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, after the meeting at the Vatican on Thursday.
He said that desire stemmed from the UAE’s values of achieving peace and security as a prerequisite for sustainable global development.
Pope Francis lauded the UAE’s efforts to promote tolerance, dialogue and coexistance. He commended the UAE for its humanitarian and philanthropic initiatives focused on education and healthcare, and its role in promoting and supporting sustainable development around the world through the adoption and deployment of sustainable sources of energy and by supporting countries and communities in need.
The pope also offered his greetings to the President, Sheikh Khalifa, and congratulated Sheikh Mohammed and the UAE delegation on the occasion of Eid Al Adha.
Sheikh Mohammed said the UAE appreciated the efforts undertaken by the pope to confront intolerance, extremism and violence as well as attempts to defile places of religious sanctity.
He praised the pope’s initiatives to tackle poverty, ignorance, violence and the culture of hatred, which could lead to increased intolerance and extremism. The UAE is working to address these challenges through humanitarian initiatives and projects to provide assistance to those in need, he said.
The UAE also aims to develop international legislation to protect religions from people who provoke tension and hostility between followers of different faiths, Sheikh Mohammed said.
He added that the UAE was a model of coexistence for others because it was home to 200 -nationalities who “live in harmony despite differences in culture, race and religion”. He said the law against hate crime and discrimination, which was -issued by Sheikh Khalifa last year, reinforced this idea.
Sheikh Mohammed said Islam was a religion of tolerance and moderation.“Terrorist groups that pretend to act in its name deviate from its true path.”
The first step in defeating these groups is for them to be seen as criminal groups that have no connection to any religion, race or geographic area, he said.
Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, said the visit was an opportunity to show a united front against all forms of intolerance.
“Pope Francis has reached out to faith leaders of all religions to reject extremism wherever it occurs. The UAE is proud to stand with him. We believe that the ideology and actions of extremists do not represent the core ethos of Islam and must be loudly denounced on that basis. Above all this is a battle for hearts and minds,” he wrote in an opinion article on CNN.com.
Promoting enlightened religious discourse is critical in order to de-legitimise those who try to hijack religion with a distorted ideology, said Sheikh Abdullah.
“The pope has expressed his hope for a stable Middle East that respects the rights of all faiths equally, a view we support in word and in deed. Within a region rife with sectarian-fuelled conflict, the UAE is a peaceful home to a multiplicity of diverse nationalities and ethnicities, living side by side in a culture of unity, religious tolerance, inclusivity and economic opportunity.”
Sheikh Hazza bin Zayed, Deputy Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Executive Council, called the meeting between Sheikh Mohammed and the pope “a historic moment”.
“Two human epitomes who share love for humanity and rejection of the causes of division and disagreement,” he tweeted, while Sheikh Ahmed Al Tayeb, Grand Imam of Al Azhar and chairman of the Muslim Council of Elders, also used Twitter to praise the visit as aiding “efforts to promote tolerance, achieve peace for humanity”.
Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, Minister of State for Tolerance, said: “Sheikh Mohammed’s visit to the pope is part of his continuous meetings aimed at promoting the values of tolerance, peace and co-existence in all societies.”
Sheikh Mohammed presented the pope with a photo book of archaeological discoveries on Sir Bani Yas Island and a “Carpet of Peace”, made by weavers from a programme launched by Sheikha Fatima bint Mohammed bin Zayed to support women in rural Afghanistan, to allow them the means to integrate into the workforce within the Afghan culture.
Sheikh Mohammed also met Matteo Renzi, the Italian prime minister, and Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state.
Sheikh Mohammed and Cardinal Parolin, along with Sheikh Abdullah, discussed ways to boost cooperation between the UAE and the Vatican, especially with regards humanitarian issues, including initiatives to boost education and health in underprivileged communities.