Pope Francis says, that during his historic trip to the United Arab Emirates, he found goodwill to start a peace process in Yemen.
He made this strong statement during his in-flight press conference returning from the UAE’s capital of Abu Dhabi to Rome, marking his 27th Apostolic Visit abroad and 41st nation visited, when he had been asked about whether he believes his warnings about the suffering and bloodshed in the Arabian country have had an impact.
ZENIT Senior Vatican Correspondent, Deborah Castellano Lubov, has been covering Francis’ historic trip from the papal flight, the first time a Pope has ever visited the Arabian Peninsula, and the first time there has ever been a public Mass in the Islamic country.
The United Arab Emirates has been seen by many as a model of peaceful coexistence among religions and cultures, despite limitations. They have proclaimed 2019 the Year of Tolerance, instituted a Ministry of Tolerance, renamed the Grand Mosque to be called ‘Mary, Mother of Jesus’ Grand Mosque, and promoted initiatives to help Hindus. The few Catholic parishes throughout the Emirates are thriving and vital, Deborah Lubov was told in her exclusive interviews with the Apostolic Vicar of Southern Arabia, Bishop Paul Hinder, Jordanian Sister Madeleine Dababneh of the Sisters of the Rosary, who pioneers Catholic education there and has been living in UAE, as well as by faithful she spoke to on the ground.
The Catholic Church in the UAE makes up nearly 10 percent of the population, numbering some 900,000, and they are all foreigners who have come to the UAE for work, and primarily from India and the Philippines.
During this Feb. 3-5 visit, Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al Azhar signed a joint declaration on Human Fraternity, calling for all concerned parties to promote religious freedom, protect places of worship, and offer citizenship, even to religious minorities.
When responding to questions on the declaration on “Human Fraternity,” signed between Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, the Holy Father underscored that it condemns every form of terrorism.
Asked how it would be applied, he said: “The document has been prepared through a lot of reflection and prayer. Both the Grand Imam and myself…we prayed a lot. To be able to produce this document.”
“Because there is only one great danger in this moment in time: destruction, war and hatred between us, if we believers are not able to give each other a hand and hug each other,” he warned, “our faith will be defeated.”
“This document is born out of the faith in God, who is father to all, the father of peace. And it condemns all destruction, all terrorism.”
The document, he explained in response to a related question, has been made in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council. “Before taking the decision, I wished for some theologians to say it was acceptable including the official theologian of the papal household, a Dominican, to make sure it was right. “He approved” and we signed it, Francis said.
During the Pope’s address at the International Interfaith Meeting on Human Fraternity, he praised the model of coexistence and tolerance he found in the UAE, but also referenced the suffering in Yemen, who the UAE has been an ally of Saudi Arabia in a military coalition in the Civil War which has been raging on for four years against Iran. According to UN statistics, the humanitarian crisis has left nearly 10 million starving, including many children.
When asked by journalists aboard the flight about the UAE’s support in the war against rebels in Yemen, Francis expressed he “found good will to start a peace process.”
Asked about recent reports of sexual abuse against nuns by the clergy, the Pope admitted it “is a problem” and that “more should be done” to prevent it. He also praised his predecessor, Benedict XVI, who made great personal efforts to counter this problem.
Yesterday, journalists, including ZENIT, spoke to Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, who used to be Apostolic Nuncio in Venezuela. Inquiring if the Pope received a letter from Maduro of Venezuela requesting mediation, Cardinal Parolin confirmed this. Today, during the conference, the Pope clarified he received a letter from Venezuela’s President before leaving for Abu Dhabi, but he hasn’t had the opportunity to read it yet.
“I will open the letter. I will see what can be done, but the initial conditions are that both sides need to ask for it,” Francis underscored, noting: it is the same when both sides go to the priest, because there is a problem between husband and wife. ‘[Is one] coming or not coming? Someone wants it or doesn’t want it? Always it must be requested or wanted by both of the parties,” he said.
When asked by a local journalist about the little girl who surprisingly ran to the pope-mobile during today’s historic Mass, he admitted he has not yet had time to go through his letters, but gave his impression: “She was courageous…I said no let her come…that girl has a future…I dare say: “poor husband!” She was courageous, I liked it…it takes courage to do that…then another girl followed her…”
At the end of the airborne press conference, Pope Francis congratulated a journalist on board, Valentina Alazraki Crastich, for her 150th papal flight. The crew brought a cake, and the Pope said (jokingly):” They told me we celebrate Valentina’s 150th birthday (laughs)…I don’t see her this mummified…she is a woman with very interesting roots. If she goes for a blood exam, the hematologist would be surprised…”
Pope Francis concluded, telling the journalists present to pray for him. “I need it,” he said.
This article is continually being update by Zenit Senior Vatican Correspondent, Deborah Castellano Lubov, traveling on the Papal Flight