WCC NEWS: Pope Francis says pilgrimage to UAE is a new page in Christian-Islam dialogue

WCC NEWS: Pope Francis says pilgrimage to UAE is a new page in Christian-Islam dialogue

In his own words, Pope Francis said his pilgrimage this week to the United Arab Emirates wrote a “new page in the history of the dialogue between Christianity and Islam” and in promoting world peace based on brotherhood.

While in Abu-Dhabi, Pope Francis signed a document with the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, the ancient seat of learning in Sunni Islam, condemning religiously motivated violence and other violence, The Associated Press reported.

“The document is a vibrant appeal to respond with good to evil, to reinforce interreligious dialogue and to promote mutual respect in order to block the road to those who add fuel to the fire of the clashes between civilizations,” said the director of the Holy See Press Office, Alessandro Gisotti, after the signing.

“The document is courageous and prophetic because it confronts, and calls by name, the most urgent issues of our day on which those who believe in God are encouraged to question their conscience and to confidently assume their responsibility to give life to a more just and united world.”

World Peace

On 4 February the pontiff and the grand imam signed the landmark document titled “Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together” which says it is “a document on a human fraternity for world peace and living together.”

“We call upon intellectuals, philosophers, religious figures, artists, media professionals and men and women of culture in every part of the world, to rediscover the values of peace, justice, goodness, beauty, human fraternity and coexistence in order to confirm the importance of these values as anchors of salvation for all, and to promote them everywhere,” it says.

World Council of Churches general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit commended the historic meeting meeting between Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, as well as the participation and observation from more than 600 religious leaders.

“This first visit by the Pope to the Arabian Peninsula is a clear sign of hope for us all,” Tveit said. “it strengthens and challenges the common commitment to be one humanity together with our many differences.”

With a population of just over eight million, the United Arab Emirates is overwhelmingly a Muslim nation but is home to nearly a million Roman Catholics, says the Catholic publication Crux and most of them from the Philippines or India.

Pope’s Vatican report back

The Roman Catholic leader reported back to pilgrims at the Vatican on 6 February during his weekly Wednesday audience about making the first-ever papal trip to the Arabian Peninsula.

The pope described his encounter with leaders of Islam as a counterpoint to the “strong temptation” to contend there’s a current clash between Christian and Islamic civilizations.

His visit was preceded by a call from Tveit at the international, interreligious conference in Abu-Dhabi, for the use of religious influence and institutions to nurture tolerance and respect.

Tveit had spoken at the 3-4 February conference organized by the Muslim Council of Elders, the Global Conference on Human Fraternity.

At a private meeting of the Elders on 4 February, Francis said, “Young people, who are often surrounded by negative messages and fake news, need to learn not to surrender to the seductions of materialism, hatred and prejudice. They need to learn to object to injustice and to the painful experiences of the past.”

“They will judge us well, if we have given them a solid foundation for creating new encounters of civility. They will judge us poorly, if we have left them only mirages and the empty prospect of harmful conflicts of incivility.”

‘One human family’

At the Emirate’s Palace, the pope said, “The point of departure is the recognition that God is at the origin of the one human family. He who is the Creator of all things and all persons wants us to live as brothers and sisters, dwelling in the common home of creation which he has given us.”

In honour of the historic visit, a new church and mosque are to be built in Abu-Dhabi, the  United Arab Emirates newspaper, The National, reported, noting they will be constructed in celebration of inter-faith relations.

Francis and Al Tayeb signed the foundation stone for the new places of worship, named the Church of Saint Francis and the Mosque of Grand Imam Ahmad Al Tayeb, alongside Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu-Dhabi, and other senior clerics and officials.

In his address Francis said, “We cannot honour the Creator without cherishing the sacredness of every person and of every human life: each person is equally precious in the eyes of God, who does not look upon the human family with a preferential gaze that excludes, but with a benevolent gaze that includes.”

He added, “The enemy of fraternity is an individualism which translates into the desire to affirm oneself and one’s group above others. This danger threatens all aspects of life, even the highest innate prerogative of man, that is, the openness to the transcendent and religious piety.”