Pope Francis said he was looking to write a new page in the history of relations between religions with his visit to the United Arab Emirates from Sunday.
“I am happy … to write on your dear land a new page in the relations between religions, confirming that we are brothers although different,” he said in a video message to the Emirati people released on Thursday.
In the message, in Italian but also dubbed into Arabic, the pope thanked Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan for his invitation to participate in an interfaith meeting on “human fraternity” from February 3 to 5.
He said the visit would give him the opportunity to again see “friend and dear brother” Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, the head of Egypt’s top Sunni Muslim authority, whom he met on a visit in 2017.
Francis has made boosting ties between Christianity and Islam a cornerstone of his papacy.
The pope said he believes the interfaith meeting reflects “the courage and willingness to affirm that faith in God unites rather than divides, brings together despite differences, and turns away from hostility and aversion”.
Francis also said the United Arab Emirates was “a land that seeks to be a model of coexistence, human fraternity and the meeting of diverse civilisations and cultures, where many find a safe place to work and live freely in the respect for diversity”.
“I look forward to meeting a people who live in the present with their eyes on the future,” he added.
The UAE prides itself on its religious tolerance and cultural diversity, and most Gulf Arab states have long allowed Christians to worship in churches.
Nearly 80 percent of the population of the UAE is Muslim, while Christians constitute around nine percent, according to the Catholic News Agency.
Many of the Catholics are workers from Africa, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and the Philippines, though some are locals.