ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES, January 21st, 2019
The UAE is preparing for the historic visit of His Holiness Pope Francis, the Head of the Catholic Church and Sovereign of the Vatican City, and His Eminence Dr Ahmad At-Tayyeb, Grand Imam of Al Azhar Al Sharif, to the United Arab Emirates in February reflecting the nation’s position as a global capital for tolerance and humanitarianism.
The landmark visit marks the first time a Pontiff has visited the GCC, and is the first time any Papal visit has coincided with a religious figure as significant as the Grand Imam. It comes after His Holiness, Pope Francis and His Eminence the Grand Imam accepted the invitation of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi.
As the preparations gather pace, the event organisers have launched the official logo of the Human Fraternity Meeting which will witness the meeting of two of the world’s most prominent religious leaders reflecting the values of brotherhood, love and peaceful dialogue.
The visit from February 3rd-5th incorporates a series of high-profile events in Abu Dhabi, which will provide a backdrop for the two religious leaders to discuss the promotion of human fraternity and world peace. It marks a further milestone in the UAE’s commitment to promoting the human fraternity and shared values of tolerance and humanitarianism, and the peaceful coexistence of all people and religions.
Key events will include a Papal Mass at the Zayed Stadium on February 5th, which is expected to attract an estimated 135,000 people from the UAE and neighbouring countries – one of the largest single gatherings ever held in the UAE.
His Holiness, Pope Francis, and His Eminence, the Grand Imam, will also meet the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan for bilateral meetings and discussions.
They will also visit together the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and Zayed’s tomb and the Pontiff will also meet with the Muslim Council of Elders.
In the 47 years of the UAE’s existence, the nation has been proud to promote co-existence among its multinational population and hosting this visit and its commitment to human fraternity is a testament to the nation’s ongoing doctrines of peaceful coexistence, tolerance and human values, driven by open interfaith dialogue.
On 4th February Abu Dhabi will also play host to the Human Fraternity Meeting that will be attended by religious leaders from around the world.
The joint visit is a highly significant occasion for the UAE in 2019, which has been declared The Year of Tolerance in the UAE, to further strengthen the nation’s role of encouraging stability and prosperity in the region. The current Year of Tolerance follows the Year of Zayed in 2018 and the Year of Giving in 2017.
The visit by Pope Francis follows last year’s visit by the country’s first Minister of Tolerance Sheikha Lubna Al Qassimi, to the Vatican, where she was received by Pope Francis and met with the President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.
The UAE has a long and proud history of inter-faith dialogue and freedom of religious expression and the first Catholic Church in the country was established in Abu Dhabi in 1965. Archeologists have also found remains of a church and monastery on Sir Bani Yas Island dating back to the 7th Century.
Today there are a total of 76 Churches and other places of worship in the UAE and the Government has also donated land for the development of new places of worship within the country.
The Catholic Church in the UAE
The Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia (AVOSA) is a territorial jurisdiction of the Catholic Church covering the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Yemen. The present Apostolic Vicar is Bishop Paul Hinder, who has an office at St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Abu Dhabi. Its jurisdiction encompasses almost a million (998,500) Catholics, 16 parish churches and nine schools, and is supported by 67 priests, 50 sisters and one deacon.
The Grand Imam of Al Azhar
The Grand Imam of Al Azhar, Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, is also known as the Grand Sheikh of Al Azhar. He is considered by some Muslims to be the highest authority in Sunni Islamic thought and Islamic jurisprudence. The Grand Imam heads the Al-Azhar Mosque, and by extension Al-Azhar University, and is responsible for official religious matters along with the Grand Mufti of Egypt. The title of the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar was officially established in 1961.