Pope decries ‘armed power’, Yemen war on UAE trip

Expat children hold the candles while serving during the mass at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Jebel Ali in Dubai

Pope Francis arrives in Abu Dhabi for historic Gulf visit, after condemning Yemen war

Pope Francis arrived at an Abu Dhabi sports stadium Tuesday to hold a public mass for an estimated 170,000 Catholics on the first ever papal visit to the Muslim Gulf.

Francis, the first pontiff to set foot on the peninsula, was speaking during a trip to the United Arab Emirates, which is playing a leading role in Yemen's conflict as part of a Saudi-led military coalition.

On Monday, the pope met with Emirate leaders and signed a joint declaration together with Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, the grand imam of Cairo's Al-Azhar University, condemning "acts of murder, exile, terrorism and oppression" carried out in God's name.

Organizers said Catholics from about 100 nations were expected to attend the mass, along with about 4,000 Muslims, including government officials.

Pope Francis had arrived: The people's pope on a quest for fraternity, asking for a unity of faiths.

"I call on the concerned parties and the global community to assure the distribution of food and work for the well-bring of Yemeni people", Francis said.

Tuesday's mass came a day after the pope called for an end to wars in the troubled Middle East, including in Yemen and Syria, at a meeting with a top sheikh and rabbi in the UAE.

A large portion of these workers of course are Muslims, but the number of Christians is growing - thanks also to the UAE's policy of religious tolerance and to its support for the Catholic community, to whom it has donated land for its Churches.

In spite of attempts by extremists on both sides to drive us apart, people from various religious backgrounds in Europe and the Middle East manage to look beyond the rhetoric and focus on what unites them.

With a population of around 10 million inhabitants drawn from more than 200 different nationalities, the UAE has over 40 Christian churches (in addition to 76 other non-Muslim places of worship) for residents to practice their religion unimpeded.

On Monday afternoon, he gave his first public speech at a meeting with Muslim, Jewish and Christian leaders at the city's Founder's Memorial center.

The organisers had planned for 135,000 people to attend the mass. Agnello Thomas travelled with his wife and two young children to see the Pope in Abu Dhabi, and told Times of Oman, "I had planned this trip in advance and had registered with my church office".

Of the over 9 million people living in the UAE, only around 1 million are Emirati; all the others are drawn to the country in rapid economic expansion to find employment in all sectors, from white-collar office jobs to construction work and domestic labour.

"Without freedom, we are no longer children of the human family, but slaves", Francis said.

The United Arab Emirates is deeply involved in the Saudi-led war in Yemen and faces widespread worldwide criticism for airstrikes killing civilians and the creation of the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

The UAE, which dubbed 2019 its Year of Tolerance, says the visit reflects its history as a "cradle of diversity". "He has a special charisma, which appeals to each one", said Raphael Muntenkurian, 64, an Indian-native and former seminarian who has lived in the UAE for more than 30 years. They can face precarious labor conditions, which human rights groups regularly denounce.

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