Pope Francis ends his historic visit to Arabia with a Mass - The joint statement was so explosive for Arab relations that their publication was not announced in advance -
correspondent report by Roland Juchem
Abu Dhabi (kath.net/KAP) 120,000 participants from 100 nations, including 4,000 Muslims: The Mass that Pope Francis celebrated on Tuesday morning in Abu Dhabi's stadium is the practical side of what he shared with the Grand Emam, Ahmad Ap-Tayyeb, of Cairo’s Al-Azhar Mosque the night before, in a landmark document on "Human Brotherhood:” brotherhood, plurality, and lived faith in the peaceful coexistence of one Creator's children.
This religious document has enormous political significance, especially in this part of the world. As clearly as the Grand Imam and the Pope promote freedom of religion, women's rights and sustainability as clearly as they condemn violence and extremism in the name of God, but also anti-religious secularism and amoral individualism, not every ruler or traditionalist preacher wants to hear that, but not only in the Middle East.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) pretend to be patrons and protectors of tolerance and dialogue - also in contrast to their big neighbor Saudi Arabia. The Emirates not only provided the Zayed sports stadium for the Pope's Mass free of charge. No expense or effort was spared for the two-day interfaith conference on "Human Fraternity," and it was a major buzzword for what was said to be "historic gatherings of the world's two most important religious leaders."
"Brother and good friend" is what Francis and al-Tayyeb call each other. The Egyptian has hardly left the pope's side in the past two days. It is their fifth encounter. In his speech, al-Tayyeb calls for Christians to have full citizenship rights in the region. He receives applause just as much as for his criticism of Western caricatures of Muslims.
The Pope, in his subsequent speech, sharply criticizes the war and arms race in the region, but praises the Emirates for granting freedom of worship. However, according to Francis, true freedom of religion is "not limited to the free exercise of religion, but sees in the other one really a brother and a sister ... of the same humanity to whom God grants freedom."
On the evening of the first day, both will receive the Human Fraternity Award, given by Abu Dhabi's ruling family, the Zayed Dynasty. While gentle music and incense flow through the small arena in front of the founder's monument and rain down confetti, the head of the Catholic Church and the head of the main teaching authority of Sunni Islam, sign their joint statement.
This is so explosive - at least in this region - that its publication was not announced in advance. Its signing was not to be jeopardized by any political interference. Together, as well as in each of their denominations, Pope and Grand Imam want to promote peace, dialogue, tolerance and genuine piety, counteract any instrumentalization of religion for hatred and violence, and advocate equal rights for all.
"A justice that applies only to family members, compatriots, and believers of the same faith is a hobbled righteousness that is veiled injustice," the Pope had warned in his speech on Monday night. Even in the tolerant emirates, non-Muslims enjoy worship, but not religious freedom. Every believer is allowed to practice his religion, many in official churches and temples, others - for lack of space - in rented hotel meeting rooms.
Mission and pastoral care among the "others" are prohibited. For Muslims who turn their backs on religion, the death penalty is officially still in force. "You have achieved a lot which is praiseworthy - but all this can be improved," could be summed up with the polite, but certain estimation by the esteemed guest.
On Monday, when interfaith dialogue took place, Tuesday morning was for Christians in the Middle East. At the Mass with tens of thousands of people in the stadium and tens of thousands more before, Francis gave consolation to the Christians in Arabia, who come from more than 100 different ethnic groups and countries living far from their homeland. He encouraged them and thanked them for living their faith as described in the document signed the day before.
This also corresponds to the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount, the Pope said in his sermon - unlike the standards of this world, according to which the rich, powerful and successful are blessed and cheered by the masses. He calls for "serving rather than being served". That sounds a bit different to the tens of thousands of people from abroad who are workers and servants in Arabia and are confronted everywhere with the large, theatrical images of powerful local emirs.
With the largest Christian worship on Arab soil to date, Christians in the Islamic world have been brought to the light of the global public. With the declaration signed by Francis and al-Tayyeb, the Catholic Church and the highest teaching authority of Sunni Islam have set a milestone behind which Christians and Muslims can not easily recede.
Video of the Mass in Abu Dhabi