February 21, 2019

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Pope Francis Breaks Some Taboos on Visit to Persian Gulf

Pope Francis Breaks Some Taboos on Visit to Persian Gulf
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The pope’s remarks in Abu Dhabi, delivered in Italian, were the finale of an interreligious conference about brotherhood and the culmination of a day in which the pope met privately and exchanged gifts with the leaders of the United Arab Emirates at the presidential palace and then reflected with Muslim leaders on peace at a giant mosque in the city.

At times, it seemed his hosts had not gotten the memo.

In the morning, a salute by 21 heavy artillery guns welcomed the pope’s arrival to the presidential palace, located on the turquoise waters of the Gulf. Soldiers swinging their left arms while carrying machine guns in their right marched in green uniforms as a band played the Vatican and United Arab Emirate anthems on bagpipes, silver trumpets and tubas.

The pope, escorted through the sprawling white palace gardens by horse-mounted guards, white S.U.V.s and black BMWs, came out of his modest navy blue Kia hatchback.

He stood under a white gazebo, flanked by Abu Dhabi’s crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, and by the Emirati vice president and prime minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum. Above them, fighter jets screamed across the blue sky, trailing yellow and white smoke — the colors of the Vatican flag.

As the smoke lingered above the palace and the gazebo, the pope greeted the Emirati delegation, with the men in sunglasses and dishdashas, and the women in traditional chadors. A delegation of cardinals and bishops, in their cream and white tropical soutanes, then greeted the royals.

The pope entered the palace where he signed the book of honor, writing that he sent the Emirati people “divine blessings of peace and fraternal solidarity.” He received from the prince a framed 1963 decree by Abu Dhabi’s ruler at the time donating the land for the first Catholic church in the Emirates.

Later in the day, the pope greeted his friend Sheikh al-Tayeb outside the magnificent Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. As the wind tossed around the hems of their robes, they entered together to meet the Muslim Council of Elders, a group of religious leaders specializing in interreligious dialogue.



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