He is the first pontiff to visit the Arabian peninsula. Pope Francis was greeted by Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces and then Dr Ahmed Al Tayeb, Grand Imam of Al Azhar Al Sharif University and Chairman of the Muslim Council of Elders. “I am about to leave for the United Arab Emirates. I am visiting that Country as a brother, in order to write a page of dialogue together, and to travel paths of peace together. Pray for me,” tweeted the Pope shortly before the flight took off. The Church’s theme for the papal visit is “Make Me a Channel of Your Peace.” The Pope has been invited by Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan to take part in an interfaith conference.
Over three days the Pope will celebrate interfaith relations. He will hold a Mass on Tuesday that is expected to draw 120,000 people. The same day he will take part in a private visit to St Joseph’s Cathedral. The UAE is also home to nearly a million Roman Catholics, most of them from the Philippines or India. Vatican officials say they need a stronger Church presence in the UAE to minister to the Catholic community there. While in Abu Dhabi, the Pope will also meet Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, the grand imam of Cairo’s al-Azhar mosque, which is the highest seat of learning for Sunni Muslims. During the visit security is expected to be tight.