A solemn interfaith ceremony was held on Thursday, February 16, in Abu Dhabi, marking the opening of the Abrahamic Family House, a complex that represents a milestone in interfaith dialogue in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where the memory of Pope Francis's visit is very much alive.
The inauguration, attended by religious and civil authorities, will be followed by a series of events over the weekend: Islamic on Friday, Jewish on Saturday, and Christian on Sunday.
Located on Saadiyat Island, the compound was initially set to open in 2022, but construction issues forced a delay.
The Abrahamic Family Home is one of the outcomes of the Pope's visit to the Emirates in February 2019.
A first by a pontiff in the Gulf, the visit saw Francis sign the Document on Human Fraternity along with al-Azhar Grand Imam Ahmed al Tayeb, in the presence of more than 400 religious leaders, with the aim of promoting coexistence among peoples and fighting extremism.
Then Vicar of Southern Arabia Bishop Paul Hinder described the complex as a place of learning, dialogue, and worship for the faithful of various religions, with a mosque, a church and a synagogue.
The project is the work of Sir David Adjaye OBE, and is designed to foster solidarity and encounter, while preserving the peculiarity of each of the three faiths who trace their common descent to Abraham.
Once open, it will immediately host daily activities and international conferences to promote cultural and religious coexistence in different communities.
After today’s opening ceremony, a conference will be held soon on interfaith relations.
On Saturday, the local Jewish community will hold Shabbat prayers in the new synagogue, led by Chief Rabbi Yehuda Sarna. On Sunday, a ceremony will be held with the arrival in the synagogue of a Torah scroll donated by UAE President Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
A Higher Committee on Human Fraternity, which will run the Abrahamic Family Home, devoted its first efforts to the pioneering structure.
Speaking to the Times of Israel, Committee member Rabbi M. Bruce Lustig, a senior member of the Washington Hebrew Congregation, said that this was an "important opportunity" for those who "believe in the power of faith and humanity."
The House, he noted, “will help build bridges between religious leaders and communities as well as foster peace and harmony in an era that is too often defined by difference,” not to mention indifference and even mutual hatred.
The UAE normalized relations with Israel in 2020 as part of the Abraham Accords brokered by the Trump administration.
Last September, on the second anniversary, 1,500 people gathered for the wedding of the UAE’S Chief Rabbi Levi Duchman, the largest Jewish wedding in the country's history.