Washington: Pope Francis landed in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for the first ever visit by a pontiff to the Arabian Peninsula — the birthplace of Islam.
The pope touched down in Abu Dhabi for the 48-hour trip during which he will meet leading Muslim clerics and hold an open-air mass for some 135,000 Catholics.
He was greeted by Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed and was warmly embraced by Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, the imam of Cairo’s Al-Azhar, Sunni Islam’s prestigious seat of learning.
The pontiff will take part in an inter-religious conference on Monday with Sheikh Ahmed.
Hours before he flies back to Rome on Tuesday, he will lead mass in a stadium in Abu Dhabi — set to be the largest gathering ever in the UAE, according to local media. His visit comes with the UAE engaged in a long-running military campaign in Yemen and embroiled in a diplomatic spat with nearby Qatar.
Before heading to the Gulf, the pontiff urged warring parties in Yemen, where the UAE backs the government against Huthi rebels, to respect a truce agreement.
“I appeal to all parties concerned and to the international community to allow the urgent respect of established accords to ensure the distribution of food,” he said.
“The population is exhausted by the lengthy conflict and a great many children are suffering from hunger, but cannot access food depots,” he added.
“The cry of these children and their parents rises up to God.”