“The seed has been sown”. Eastern Church leaders hope historic papal visit in Abu Dhabi will be a source of lasting momentum

“The seed has been sown”. Eastern Church leaders hope historic papal visit in Abu Dhabi will be a source of lasting momentum

Catholic Church leaders from the Near East have emphasised the significance of Pope Francis’s visit to the United Arab Emirates. “I believe that this is a very positive sign for the relationship between Islam and Christianity in the region,” Patriarch Ibrahim Isaac Sidrak, head of the Coptic Catholic Church, commented. In a talk with Aid to the Church in Need on Monday in Abu Dhabi, he said, “We Christians in Egypt may harbour renewed hope. The fruits will not become apparent immediately, but the message of tolerance and fraternity has been sown.”

Coptic Catholic Patriarch Ibrahim Sidrak (Patriarch of the Catholic Coptic Church in Egypt) during Abu Dhabi conference on human fraternity.

Coptic Catholic Patriarch Ibrahim Sidrak (Patriarch of the Catholic Coptic Church in Egypt) during Abu Dhabi conference on human fraternity.

The importance of the meeting that took place on Monday in Abu Dhabi between Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of al-Azhar University of Cairo, Ahmed al-Tayeb, one of the highest Sunni authorities, cannot be stressed enough, the Church leader explained. “This visit will help to correct the false image that many Muslims have of Christianity,” said the Patriarch, which Church is united with Rome. “Conversely, many Christians will realise that the majority of Muslims are not terrorists. The Islamic authorities want to show that they have nothing to do with terrorism.”

The pontiff’s three-day visit is the first time the head of the Catholic Church has travelled to the Arabian Peninsula, the home of Islam.

The pontiff’s three-day visit is the first time the head of the Catholic Church has travelled to the Arabian Peninsula, the home of Islam.

In the Holy Land as well, there were hope that the papal visit would be a source of momentum. In a talk with Aid to the Church in Need on Monday in Abu Dhabi, Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa said, “The message of fraternity and dialogue that the Pope has brought to the Arab Peninsula is hopefully a seed that will also take root in the Holy Land.” The Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem stayed in the Gulf State during the visit of Pope Francis. This is the first time in history that a pope has visited the Arab Peninsula, the birthplace of Islam. Archbishop Pizzaballa continued, “We cannot expect this visit to bring a concrete solution. Only general statements can be made. However, the meeting itself is momentous because it gathers together religious leaders in a region that is the cradle of the monotheistic religions, but also one that is shaken by religious conflict. A meeting between the Pope and the Grand Imam is thus an important sign.”

Pierbattista Pizzaballa, O.F.M., Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem and the Franciscan Custos of the Holy Land.

Pierbattista Pizzaballa, O.F.M., Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem and the Franciscan Custos of the Holy Land.

According to Archbishop Pizzaballa, the Christian-Islamic dialogue has entered a new phase. “There is a before and after ISIS,” the Italian Franciscan said. “The Islamic-Christian dialogue began a long time ago. But it was very formal and general. With the appearance of ISIS, the dialogue became more concrete and more realistic. For all involved, it is about stopping aberrant behaviour as well as killing and massacre in the name of religion.” As religions in the Near and Middle East also have a political and social dimension, the archbishop continued, the issue has now become how to develop positive relationships with each other in everyday life.

On Monday, Pope Francis attended an interfaith meeting in the capital city of the United Arab Emirates. The meeting with the grand imam of Cairo on Monday and the celebration of Holy Mass with 130 000 Christians on Tuesday were the highlights of the three-day trip. Pope Francis returned to Rome on Tuesday.

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