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Pope Francis celebrated Mass in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday as he closed a brief, but historic visit to the United Arab Emirates.
The Mass drew an estimated 135,000 people to Zayed Sports City stadium for what some people said was the largest show of public Christian worship on the Arabian Peninsula.
Before Mass, the leader of the world’s Catholics circled the stadium in his popemobile, waving to the crowd as it responded it cheers and chants of support.
On Monday, Pope Francis called for an end to wars in the Middle East, particularly conflicts in Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Libya, as he spoke at an interfaith meeting.
“Human fraternity requires of us, as representatives of the world’s religions, the duty to reject every nuance of approval from the word ‘war’. Let us return it to its miserable crudeness,” the pope said.
The UAE is a key part of a Saudi-led coalition that has been fighting in Yemen in support of the country’s president since 2015, but which has been criticized by rights groups for killing civilians with airstrikes.
Pope Francis spoke alongside Sheik Ashamed el-Tayeb, the grand imam of Egypt’s Al-Azhar, the 1,000-year-old seat of Sunni Islam.
Religion and war
Francis and Sheik Tayeb denounced what they called “senseless wars” and the exploitation of religion to “promote war, violence and terrorism.”
The two leaders emphasized that it is worldly powers, not religion, that create conflict, according to the pastor of the International Church at Yale University, Joe Cumming.
“People pursuing gain drive conflict and then use religion, exploit religion, to drive wedges that further drive conflict that leads to suffering and death,” Cumming said. “What we need is to recover the idea of spiritual values.”
Egyptian political sociologist Said Sadek said it is “politicians, businessmen, bankers and economists” who spawn wars “in the pursuit of their own profit.”
Paul Haidostian, president of Haigazian University in Beirut, said both leaders delivered the same message Monday to warmongers across the world.
“Do not use religion for your acts of terror,” Haidostian said, summarizing the leaders’ message. “Do not use religion to justify wars. Do not use religion to justify unjust practices.”
Also attending the “Human Fraternity Meeting” were Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist and Hindu faith leaders from around the world.
Pope Francis and Sheikh Tayeb stressed that citizens of all faiths should be able to live together in their countries and enjoy equal rights, said Cumming.
The pope used a verse from the Koran to emphasize that point.
“All the Muslims in the audience will immediately recognize the verse in the Koran, which describes how God created human-kind ‘diverse’ so that ‘we would all come to know each other,'” Cumming said.
The conference and the pope’s appearance are all part of the Emirates’ Year of Tolerance and its effort to show its openness to other faiths.
“It’s something new for the Muslim world, that within the discussion of dialogue, they’re talking about interreligious dialogue across the board, beyond basic Christian-Muslim relations,” Marco Impagliazzo, president of the Sant’Egidio Community, a Rome-based Catholic organization told the Associated Press.
Abu Dhabi’s crown prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan was among those who welcomed the pope to the presidential palace during a ceremony earlier Monday.
It was the first-ever trip by a pope to the Arabian Peninsula.
The Catholic Church believes there are as many as one million Catholics in the UAE. Most of them are from the Philippines and India and have left family behind to come for jobs in the Emirates where they face precarious work conditions.
Source: Voice of America