UAE Delegation Meets Pope Benedict XVI


Pope Benedict XVI greets Abdul Aziz al-Ghurair, the speaker of the Federal National Council, at the Vatican. L'Osservatore Romano / AP

VATICAN CITY - OCT 23: A UAE delegation met Pope Benedict XVI yesterday in the highest-level visit to the Vatican by Emirati officials since the establishment of diplomatic relations with the city state last year.

Abdul Aziz al Ghurair, the speaker of the Federal National Council, who led the delegation, told Pope Benedict, leader of the world’s Roman Catholic Christians, the UAE was committed to religious freedom.

“I told His Holiness that the UAE is based on religious tolerance and that we pay great respect to all religious symbols and figures,” said Mr Ghurair. “People from more than 200 nationalities live in the UAE and I said that we don’t discriminate between religions.”

The Vatican and the UAE established diplomatic ties at ambassadorial level in June 2007. The Government is expected to appoint an ambassador soon.

Mr Ghurair told the pope the UAE embraced peace between all nations and religions and the two men discussed building churches in the country, and the UAE’s efforts to ensure this could be done.

When Mr Ghurair told Pope Benedict that Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, had given land this month for construction of a church for the Marthoma Christian community in Al Ain, the pope said he knew of the donation.

“I am aware of the construction of churches in the Emirates,” the pontiff said. “I respect the efforts of your leadership to promote tolerance.”

“I was surprised that he knew about everything I told him about the UAE,” Mr Ghurair said.

The few Roman Catholic churches in the UAE are often overcrowded. They have to hold many services in different languages to accommodate the large numbers of Catholic faithful, mainly from the Philippines, India, the Middle East and western Europe, who wish to attend weekly worship. On major Christian feast days, thousands of worshippers have to listen to services from outside.

Mr Ghurair said he told the pope the UAE wanted to establish a strong relationship with the Vatican and to enhance civil and religious contacts. “We expect this relationship to materialise soon,” he added.

At present, Archbishop Mounged el Hachem is the Vatican’s nuncio or envoy to the country. He resides in Kuwait where he also represents the Vatican.

The UAE delegation’s visit comes against the backdrop of a region-wide commitment to interfaith dialogue.

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia last year became the first Saudi monarch to hold talks at the Vatican when he met Pope Benedict in a move criticised by some Saudis. Commentators said the meeting was hugely symbolic and particularly important to those who believed there should be greater dialogue between Islam and Christianity.

King Abdullah convened Muslim, Christian and Jewish clerics in Madrid in July for talks on reducing religious intolerance. The UAE was represented at the forum.

At an interfaith conference at Yale University in July, religious and political leaders warned that much needed to be done to reach accord between the two faiths. Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal of Jordan warned that Muslims and Christians often mistrusted, disrespected and disliked one another.

“Sixty per cent of Christians harbour prejudice against Muslims, and 30 per cent of Muslims reciprocate,” he said, citing an international Gallup survey.

The last UAE official to meet the pope was the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan, the nation’s founder, who met Pope John Paul II unofficially nearly two decades ago, according to Italian officials.

Mr Ghurair also met Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican secretary of state, who welcomed the Emirati delegation to the Vatican.

Cardinal Bertone said the UAE was a model for co-existence among various religions, adding that dialogue between faiths was possible and that extremists only constituted a limited number of followers of religious faiths.

He also reiterated the importance of paying respect to religious figures and symbols, saying the action of a Danish cartoonist who portrayed the Prophet Mohammed in a manner that caused offence to Muslims could not be considered a case that should be protected by press freedoms.

Paolo Dionisi, Italy’s ambassador to the UAE, accompanied the UAE delegation, which also included Dr Mohammed al Mazrouei, the secretary general of the FNC.

Mr Ghurair is heading an FNC delegation to a number of European countries including Italy, Spain and Poland. He is scheduled to meet senior officials, including presidents and prime ministers.

The visit to Italy comes only a few days after Franco Frattini, the Italian foreign minister, visited Abu Dhabi and met his UAE counterpart, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi.


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Comment on this article

  • Mahadeva shetty(DIET CENTER), Riyadh (Surthkal)

    Fri, Oct 24 2008


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  • Michae Lobo, Mangalore

    Sat, Oct 25 2008

    Indian Bajarangi and VHP outfits must learn civility in the first place to understand the significance of dialogue between various religious communities. I was surprised to see a arab country like UAE has shown great character in facilitating religious harmony in that country. When harmony between people exists, the process of development of a country - educationally, capitalistically and culturally - becomes a smooth function.

    People must understand this basic fact that the only way for a happy living in a state is to embrace peace and solve the problems via dialogue. India has serious lessons to learn from UAE. I really appreciated the broadmindedness and empathy they hold towards foreign nationals. God bless UAE.

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  • juliana, udupi

    Thu, Oct 23 2008

    Religion is a path to reach God the almighty. Let all the religious leaders meet each other and have dialogues to remove the present conflicts on religion. This is a healthy development. Regarding percentage of Christian love/hate is not to be considered since hatred is not permitted in the religion.

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  • A.S.Mathew, U.S.A

    Thu, Oct 23 2008

    Three world religions having the same roots are Islam, Jewish and Christianity. Followers of those relgions must read all of their sacred books, then they can understand better. I am happy that the U.A.E. is taking the lead in religious tolerance, and other countries of the Arabian peninsula can follow the lead. Let followers of all religions respect each other and study so that we all can live in peace.

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  • M.E.Moolur, Udupi

    Fri, Oct 24 2008

    It is wonderful to see Mr.Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair visit Pope Benedict. Inter faith dialogues and meetings are the only means that can enhance piece and brotherhood among the different religions. It will be more meaningful if such meetings are held occasionally in religious centres like Mecca, Vetican, Varanasi etc.

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    Fri, Oct 24 2008


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  • Naina, mangalore/usa

    Thu, Oct 23 2008

    Wonderful, I think Mr,Acharya and Mr.Yeddy should read this article and enhance thier knoweldge.

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  • Mario Andrew Rodrigues, Goa / Dubai

    Thu, Oct 23 2008

    Its wonderful to see Muslim Leaders and Christian Leaders come together for a wonderful, co-existence PEACEFUL WORLD. God bless UAE Leaders, Pope Benedict XVI and all leaders who strive for PEACE and HARMONY in this World.

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  • GERALD DSOUZA, chikmagalur

    Thu, Oct 23 2008

    Good news

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  • Captain Stanley Latif Correa, Mangalore/Saudi Arabia

    Thu, Oct 23 2008

    This is a good step taken by the UAE delegates to visit Vatican. Though the meetings may be symbolic but this will bring greater dialogue in the future between Islam and Christianity.

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  • VR Miyar,

    Thu, Oct 23 2008

    A very good moove Mr. AlGurair becoze of these visionery thuought Today UAE is known to the world and Dubai is grown such a high speed.  Dubai such a small place with out having any thing ( even oil )is emerged as Business Hub to Middle east and far east even part of Indian sub continent/Africa .

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  • Prakash, India/Dubai

    Thu, Oct 23 2008

    I work Dubai, It is so much fascinating to see,so many catholics from diffrent nationalities (higest from philipines and India)come to pray under same roof of St.Marys church right opposite to the Mosque which is a few metre away from each other so much peacefull and so much disciplined.Truely its relegious freedom in Dubai-UAE.What's happening in India is so much reverse,which was neverbefore.Just because of few anti social and uneducated youths which we wintnessed in mangalore distruction of churches etc..hope they see and improve...

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  • Silvia, Mangalore

    Thu, Oct 23 2008

    "Religious tolerance" - Its high time our Indian leaders follow on the footsteps Sh. Al Ghurair. Because of such broad minded principles, Dubai has emerged as a developed internationally renowned country today.

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  • Kevin Dias, Upoor - Udipi

    Thu, Oct 23 2008

    Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair great words from you to the Holy Father that the UAE was committed to religious freedom, what can one ask for more in a Muslim country that has given our faithful and our our brotheren to practice the faith of your choice.

    The Holy Father was aware of the development in the UAE of Churches.The late Ruler Shaikh Zayed played a important role among the faithful followed by Shaik Maquotum and the defence Minister and Ruler of Dubai Shaikh Mohammed.

    Bishop Grimoli and now Bishop Paul Hinder do play a very active role in the Gulf, we have got to thank the great diplomatic roles being played by the UAE Rulers and our faithful in the relationship that is so strong. God Bless them all.

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