A jubilant spirit of gratitude is prevailing among the Christian community in the UAE, while readying themselves up for Pope Francis’ historic visit to Abu Dhabi, the first by a pontiff to the Arab Peninsula.
The Emirates News Agency (WAM) spoke to a number of expats from different walks and highlighted some reactions to the visit that will be a milestone moment for interfaith relations.
In St. Antony Cathedral in Abu Dhabi, Priest Bishoy said, “Pope’s visit is a ‘crowning’ of an Emirati trend of tolerance that serves an example for the world. It’s a message of peace and progress to the whole world. A message against fanatics and extremists that peace will prevail over forces of darkness.”
Salvador is a Filipino waiter in Abu Dhabi Mall expressed joy as he looks forward to the Pope’s visit, though he won’t be able to attend the mass.
“The visit means a lot to me. It’s the first of its kind, reflecting diversity and tolerance the whole world should embrace as UAE offers an example to other countries,” said Salvador.
Syrian Christian Hala Daroug, an interpreter in UAE, excitedly said: “Great that the Pope’s visit coincides with the Year of Tolerance in UAE, though the Emirati society is already tolerant all along anyway. Something we feel and live while practicing our Christian faith freely in our churches across the country.”
Pia, another Filipino working in one of Abu Dhabi restaurants, is moved by the visit.
“We as Filipinos feel elated with the Pope’s visit. Though I missed registration to attend the mass in Zayed Sports City, I’ll follow it on TV and I thank UAE for its values of respecting the other”, Pia said.
Jenifer, a Jordanian Christian working and living in the UAE, thanked the country for hosting the Pope.
“This is a historic visit for us all, and we thank Emirati leadership for extending the invitation to our Pope. We all are look forward to His Holiness’ prayers, with joy and hope,” said Jenifer.
Excited about the visit, a Coptic Christian from Egypt says: “That’s not new. That’s the norm here in UAE. So the visit is a natural development of the harmony and tolerance among all the people living here as if they’re at home.”
Another Coptic Christian in Abu Dhabi says: “UAE is a pioneer in inter-faith reconciliation; so it’s normal to host Pope Tawadros II, Sheikh of Al Azhar and Pope Francis.”
Another religious leader, Bishop Abakir, stresses the fact that Emirati spirit of tolerance is well-established.
“UAE always welcomes religious leaders from different walks, so the visit by the Pope of Rome is a culmination of this tolerant culture we see here,” Bishop Abakir said.
More than one million Roman Catholics and other Christian expatriates are living in the UAE, which is home to over 40 churches, substantially more centres of worship than all the other GCC States combined.