Francis Makes First Papal Visit to the Arabian Peninsula

Pope Francis arrived in the United Arab Emirates Sunday ahead of an interreligious conference.

The leader of the world's Roman Catholics, is making the first-ever trip by a pope to the Arabian Peninsula, the birthplace of Islam.

He returns to Rome Tuesday.

Before leaving the Vatican, Francis said he had been following the humanitarian crisis in Yemen with great worry and urged all sides to respect international agreements and ensure food reaches suffering Yemenis.

'Human Fraternity Meeting'

Francis and Sheik Ashamed el-Tayeb, the grand imam of Egypt's Al-Azhar, the 1,000-year-old seat of Sunni Islam will speak Monday at the "Human Fraternity Meeting." Attending that meeting will be Muslims, Christians, and hundreds of Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist and other faith leaders.

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.

Mass in Abu Dhabi

On Tuesday, the pope will celebrate mass in Abu Dhabi.

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 can face precarious work conditions.

The mass is expected to draw around 135,000 people in what some people say will be the largest show of public Christian worship on the Arabian Peninsula.

Source: Voice of America