Pope Francis hails UAE as a 'model of co-existence' in video message before papal visit

The pontiff thanks Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed for his invitation as the Crown Prince says he looked forward to his stay

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Pope Francis extended his warm greetings to the people of the UAE in a video message released by the Vatican on Thursday, ahead of his visit to Abu Dhabi next week.

He began the video, posted in Italian, with the Islamic greeting "salam alaikum" (peace be upon you all) before saying he was pleased to be visiting the UAE, a "country which strives to be a model for co-existence and human fraternity and a meeting point of different civilisations and cultures".

He also thanked Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, for inviting him to "take part in a dialogue of religions".

On Thursday, Sheikh Mohamed responded by welcoming the Pope to the country, saying that he is looking forward to the "historic" interfaith meeting.

"We are hopeful that generations to come will prosper in peace and security," Sheikh Mohamed said on Twitter.

Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, Minister of Tolerance, said it would be “an honour to welcome the Pope to the UAE” and that he would be visiting a country that had learned the value of tolerance.

He said the Vatican and the UAE each “embrace diversity and recognize the special talents of various population elements of the global society.”

In the video, Pope Francis also expressed gratitude to Dr Ahmed Al Tayeb, the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, whom he described as his "brother and dear friend."

Pope Francis and Dr Al Tayeb will meet at Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque on Monday, along with members of the Muslim Council of Elders, to take part in inter-faith dialogue, followed by a visit to the Founder's Memorial.

The two will also take part in the Global Conference of Human Fraternity, that will be attended by some of the world’s most prominent religious leaders. The two-day conference, that aims to pave a road to global peace through understanding, begins on Monday.

The Pope's landmark three-day visit - from February 3 to 5 - will culminate in a public Mass for 135,000 people at Zayed Sports City.

"I am glad for the opportunity that God has given me, here in your land, where a new page of historic interfaith relationships will be written, that emphasises we are brothers despite our differences," Pope Francis said in the video.

"It is with immense joy that I prepare to meet and greet the children of [UAE Founding Father Sheikh] Zayed in the land of Zayed. The land of prosperity and peace, of sunshine and harmony, of coexistence and coming together," he said.

Quoting the Sheikh Zayed, he said: "the true wealth of a nation does not lie only in its material resources but resides in its people. These are the people who build the future of their nation. People are the real wealth."

He thanked everyone for "their courage and determination in stressing that faith in God unites us all and never divides.

"Faith brings us together even in the face of differences. It also keeps us away from hostility and indifference. I am happy on this occasion, granted to me by God, which will create a new chapter in the history of relations between faiths," Pope Francis said.

Meanwhile, preparations are under way in Abu Dhabi to greet the pontiff on Sunday night and screens are being erected at Zayed Sports City ahead of Mass.

Distribution of tickets to Tuesday's Mass began on Monday with thousands queuing at St Mary's Catholic Church to collect tickets and buy memorabilia.

The Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation announced that Tuesday would be a public holiday for private sector workers who had secured tickets.