Pope Francis and the Arab Homeland

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Pope Francis and the Arab Homeland

By Fr. Dr. Rif’at Bader

The issuance of the agenda of Pope Francis' visits in the new year shows two impending visits to two fraternal Arab countries: the first to a country in the far Arab East, which will take place within days, to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), while the second is to the far Arab West, to Morocco. As for us, the inhabitants of the Holy Land, it has been five years since the Pope's historic visit in 2014 to Jordan and from there he proceeded to our beloved Palestine. He also visited Egypt two years ago and held a conference that the Sheikh Al-Azhar had called for.

The visits undertaken by the Pope require two invitations, namely from the government of the respective country and the Catholic Church located there. On every visit, there are meetings with officials and with diplomats as well as a celebration of a “Holy Mass” attended by Christian groups. The visits also include meetings with various religious groups in the society.

What distinguishes his visits to both the UAE and Morocco (with some exceptions) is that there are no Christian indigenous citizens in these countries, as they are all Muslim, while the Christians in these countries are expatriates who live and/or work there. It is not the first time that Morocco welcomes a Pope. Pope (Saint) John Paul II went to Morocco in 1985 and met with Muslim youth in one of the largest stadiums. It was the first time that the head of the Catholic Church spoke to Muslim youth, and this was a global, positive point in the history of Islamic-Christian dialogue. As for the UAE, the society there is wonderful and pioneering. It constitutes a mosaic abounding with mutual respect and freedom of worship. What is very important in the UAE is the contribution of every "expatriate" to the development of society and the provision of time, effort and scientific excellence in return for earning high salaries as well as good education for children.

What draws attention to the Pope's visit to the UAE is that it coincides with the convening of “The International Interfaith Meeting on Human Fraternity”. The name of this conference has beautiful terms that excel terms such as dialogue, common living, and futile dialogues to the point of considering the human family as a warm house for brothers and sisters without distinction. Consequently, the UAE named 2019 as the Year of Tolerance to serve as a glaring lamp to be followed with positive results of grand visits such as the visitation of Pope Francis, accompanied by widespread media coverage throughout the wider Catholic world.

We are greatly honored as Arabs to see the Vatican and the Holy See's diplomacy regarding our Arab countries and regional issues which have turned into international issues, especially the Palestinian issue and the issue of refugees and the forcibly displaced. During his annual meeting with members of the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See, the Pope valued Jordan’s and Lebanon’s "brotherly welcoming" of the refugees in their respective countries. He also reiterated the Holy See’s call to attain the two-state solution in Palestine through conducting bilateral negotiations.

As for Muslim-Christian relations, there is no doubt that in the wake of the Pope's visit to our brotherly countries, the UAE and Morocco, it will witness a new impetus that will not stop short at speeches reflecting compliments, but will rather call for unity among Muslims and Christians of our time to serve humans and humanity by promoting a climate of justice, peace, respect for religious freedom, and finding the best ways to serve the poor and to protect the environment, which has been a continuous source of concern for those with sincere intentions.

Your Holiness Pope Francis, you are welcome in our Arab countries.

abouna.org@gmail.com

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