Abu Dhabi crown prince welcomes Pope Francis on first ever visit to Arabian Peninsula

AP , Sunday 3 Feb 2019

Pope Francis is welcomed by Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, upon his arrival at the Abu Dhabi airport, United Arab Emirates, Sunday, Feb. 3, 2019 AP

Pope Francis has been greeted by Abu Dhabi's crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, on his arrival to the UAE, becoming the first pontiff to visit the Arabian Peninsula, the birthplace of Islam.

A young boy and girl in traditional Emirati dress handed the pontiff flowers after landing Sunday night.

The two leaders then walked past an honor guard, all with traditional Arabic daggers at their waists.

Pope Francis and Sheikh Mohammed smiled and spoke to each other as they walked through the airport terminal.

The pope also met a host of Cabinet ministers in a greeting line, as well as local Catholic and Muslim officials.

Pope Francis' Alitalia flight touched down in the capital city of the United Arab Emirates, a federation of seven sheikhdoms, around 9:50 p.m. on Sunday.

Francis is building on two of his priorities with his Sunday-Tuesday visit to the United Arab Emirates - promoting interfaith dialogue and visiting the Catholic peripheries.

Francis appealed earlier Sunday for an end to Yemen's humanitarian crisis, saying the ``cries of these children and their parents rise up'' to God.

He made the appeal at the Vatican an hour before his scheduled departure on a three-day trip to the UAE, which is a key member of the Saudi-led coalition at war with Yemen's Iran-aligned Houthi rebels.

The conflict has driven Yemen to the brink of famine and caused the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

Francis urged faithful in St. Peter's Square to join him in prayer, saying ``these are hungry children'' with no medicine, and ``are in danger of dying.''

Noting that many can't reach food aid areas, he appealed to the involved parties and the international community to urgently ensure that agreements are reached and food distributed.

Earlier today, Christian leaders attending a summit in Vatican City ahead of Pope Francis' arrival in Abu Dhabi say they're excited for the first papal visit to the Arabian Peninsula.

Bishop Camillo Ballin, the apostolic vicar of Northern Arabia, told The Associated Press on Sunday that the Roman Catholic Church provided succor for an estimated 1 million faithful in the United Arab Emirates, nearly all of them foreigners drawn to the country for employment.

Ballin said: ``His visit is a big and important encouragement for the Christians that live in these countries because they are far from their homeland and they need especially to be encouraged so that they feel they are home.''

Rev. Andrew Thompson of St. Andrew's Anglican Church in Abu Dhabi said his congregation was excited for Pope Francis' Mass on Tuesday.

Thompson said: ``My congregation are so happy we are witnessing what will be the biggest Christian act of worship in the history of the Arabian Gulf, and we are excited to be a part of that.''

*This story was edited by Ahram Online
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