Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak has urged the world to join together in tolerance and human fraternity to achieve peace and temper political conflict.
The Minister of Tolerance's comments came at the opening of the Global Conference of Human Fraternity, a two-day event in Abu Dhabi where some of the world’s most prominent religious leaders will try to chart a path for global peace.
"We live in difficult times with new and unforeseen challenges confronting local communities," Sheikh Nahyan said.
“Many adults lack even the most basic literacy skills. Many children are not in school. Sadly, there are conflicts over geography, water, religion and political beliefs. But tolerance and human fraternity have the power to deal with these challenges.”
The conference marks the first visit of a sitting pope to the Arabian Gulf, with Pope Francis scheduled to fly into Abu Dhabi on Sunday evening.
On Monday, a historic meeting between the pontiff and Dr Ahmed Al Tayeb, Grand Imam of Al Azhar and Chairman of the Muslim Council of Elders, will draw the conference to a close at the capital's Founder’s Memorial, an installation dedicated to Founding President Sheikh Zayed.
Dozens of other religious leaders from the Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist faiths will speak in Abu Dhabi over the next two days, with about 700 people expected to attend.
Sheikh Nahyan said the UAE was honoured by the visit of the Pope and Grand Imam, and that both were global figures for compassion.
“Tolerance and human fraternity have the power to improve health and safety,” Sheikh Nahyan told the conference audience in his opening address.
“Tolerance and human fraternity can help us heal the environment. Tolerance and human fraternity will make us champions for human rights and obligations,” he said.
Sheikh Nahyan said he hoped the conference would become known as a landmark event to improve global human relations.
“Our responsibility is to work together to under the banner of peace and the preservation of human dignity.”
The conference will explore topics such as interfaith dialogue, oppression of religious communities and ways to tackle extremism. The first session was led by Minister of Culture, Noura Al Kaabi, and will be dominated by women speakers.
The conference on Sunday also heard opening speeches from Ahmed Gheit, secretary general of the Arab League, James Zogby, founder of the Arab American Institute, Rev Olav Tveit, secretary general of the World Council of Churches and Swami Brahmavihari, a Hindu priest.
Mr Zogby warned extremist groups were trying to turn religion into a tool of war.
“No country is immune,” he said.
“No society or faith community is innocent. Christian fundamentalists, Islamic extremists, Jewish nationalists and on and on.”
Mr Zogby said a conference of this type was unimaginable in earlier days and in a country that was perhaps unimaginable just a century ago. He urged everyone to come together to build a human family. “We can work together," he said.
Building on this theme, Ali Al Amin, Lebanese scholar and member of the Muslim Council of Elders, said too often religion has been used to justify war.
The reasons for the first and second world wars were not religious, he said.
“Islam is not responsible for wars launched under its name or any aggression. Nor Christianity. Only humans are responsible," he said, adding that dialogue and connections can help to avoid war.
Rev Tveit spoke about the threat from racism. He cautioned that it was a brutal reality and found across all continents. “It is a human sin and one of the most dangerous poisons,” he said.
Swami Brahmavihari began his talk by chanting a peace mantra. In a lively and well-received address, he said the world was building theme parks, video games and hotels but asked why some of the most popular selling medicines were anti-depressants.
The priest also recalled a meeting with Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, and the prime minister of India, Narendra Modi, in Abu Dhabi.
“The protocol told us that we are not supposed to talk to the Crown Prince, I said what if the Crown Prince talks to me? And that is what exactly happened," he said.
“When we stood together, the prime minister told me: ‘The Crown Prince and I are like brothers.’ That is when the Crown Prince drew me closer and said: ‘All three of us are brothers.'
“What more do you want of human fraternity?”
The Swami said that tolerance was not cosmetic in the UAE.
"The landing on the moon was a dream, but it happened. When you stop dreaming things don’t happen, but what a place the UAE is to dream about tolerance."
Pope Francis, who arrives in Abu Dhabi about 10pm on Sunday, will visit the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque on Monday, and lead a huge open air Mass at Zayed Sports City on Tuesday.