Pope Francis’s Historic Visit to the United Arab Emirates

Emma Holtz '20, Assistant Editor

Monday February 4, 2019 marked a historical first in papal history with Pope Francis’s arrival to the United Arab Emirates. The three-day trip kicked off with a visit to Abu Dhabi’s lavish presidential palace where Francis traded luxurious travel arrangements for his understated Kia Soul. Military salutes greeted him as he arrived on site. Aircraft filled the sky with white and yellow smoke in honor of the Vatican flag. There, he spoke in front of key Jewish, Christian, and Muslim community leaders at Frontier’s Memorial Center. In a speech, he touched upon important topics such as the recent sex abuse scandals as well as rejecting war and conflict in areas such as Yemen and Syria.

The next day, Pope Francis held a Catholic mass in the Zayed Sports City Stadium to a crowd of about 135,000 people in Abu Dhabi’s capital city center. His message of faith and humility in the face of conflict during his homily alluded to the intense sexual assault investigation plaguing the Catholic Church. This scandal and the negative publicity have hurt church attendance, which in turn affects parishes financially and has led to a number of churches closing. Both of his talks emphasized the bonds of the Catholic faith across all borders, including the Emirates, who is known to have little religious tolerance. The historic trip is a testament to Pope Francis’s efforts to develop relationships with countries unfamiliar to the Vatican’s outreach. Many speculate this visit as the starting point for Pope Francis to explore countries previously overlooked by the Vatican in an attempt to spread the Catholic ideology.