Pope Francis condemns all violence committed in God's name, seeks end to the war in Yemen, where the UAE plays a key role, during the first visit by a pope to the Arabian Peninsula.
Pope Francis on Monday called for an end to wars in the Middle East during the first visit by the head of the Catholic church to the birthplace of Islam – the Arabian Peninsula.
Francis, who has made outreach to Muslim communities a cornerstone of his papacy, is on an historic three-day visit to the United Arab Emirates.
He is scheduled to hold an open-air mass on Tuesday for 135,000 of the Muslim country's million Catholic residents, set to be the largest ever public gathering in the Gulf state.
Francis called for an end to the war in Yemen, where the UAE plays a key role.
"Human fraternity requires of us, as representatives of the world's religions, the duty to reject every nuance of approval from the word war. I am thinking in particular of Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Libya," the pope said during an interfaith meeting in Abu Dhabi attended by Sheikh Ahmed al Tayeb, the world's top Sunni Muslim cleric.
He asserted that religious leaders have a duty to reject all war and commit themselves to dialogue.
"God is with those who seek peace. From heaven he blesses every step which, on this path, is accomplished on earth," he said.
Commit 'against the logic of armed power'
Speaking in Italian at the Abu Dhabi Founder's Memorial, Francis cited the conflicts in Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Libya in calling for leaders to resist the "floods of violence and the desertification of altruism."
Speaking to a gathering of imams, muftis, ministers, rabbis, swamis, Zoroastrians and Sikhs, Francis said: "Human fraternity requires of us, as representatives of the world's religions, the duty to reject every nuance of approval from the word 'war.' Let us return it to its miserable crudeness."
"Let us commit ourselves against the logic of armed power," he said.
Francis also met with a group of Muslim elders at the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi in what the Vatican said was a "particularly cordial and fraternal" encounter.
The Vatican said the private meeting lasted about 30 minutes, and was followed by a visit of the mosque alongside Sheikh Ahmed el Tayeb, the grand imam of Egypt's Al Azhar, the seat of Sunni learning.
Francis later paid homage at the tomb of the founder of the Emirates.
The Vatican said that during the meeting, Francis and the participants "emphasised the importance of the culture of encounter to reinforce the commitment to dialogue and peace."
TRT World's Yashini Padayachee has more.
Earlier, Pope Francis, the first pontiff to set foot on the peninsula where Islam was born, met Emirati leaders in Abu Dhabi where he got a royal welcome.
Arriving at the sprawling presidential palace with its many domes of gold and glass, Francis was greeted with a flyover by UAE air force jets spewing out plumes of smoke in yellow and white – the colours of the Vatican flag.
He rode to the main courtyard in a small car escorted by a dozen flag-bearing Emirati guards on horseback. He shunned bulletproof cars or limousines since the start of his papacy.
Once inside the palace, a 150 hectares maze of buildings, gardens and fountains, Francis held private talks with Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan and other UAE leaders.
"We discussed enhancing cooperation, consolidating dialogue, tolerance, human coexistence & important initiatives to achieve peace, stability and development for peoples and societies," Sheikh Mohammed tweeted.
The UAE is home to around 1 million expatriate Catholics, many from the Philippines. Another 1 million Catholics are believed to live in other countries in the Arabian Peninsula.
'Peace and fraternal solidarity'
Writing in the palace guest book, he asked that God grant the UAE "divine blessings of peace and fraternal solidarity".
The visit takes place in the shadow of the war in Yemen, the poorest Arabian Peninsula nation, where the UAE military has a leading role in a Saudi-led coalition fighting on the side of the internationally recognised Yemeni government that was ousted by the Houthi group.
The visit received some positive media attention in neighbouring Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam and where churches are banned.
The main English daily, Arab News, ran a picture of the pope and Abu Dhabi's crown prince calling it "the moment that made history on the Arabian Peninsula."
It ran an article citing Muslim and Catholic officials saying Saudi Arabia could feature in a future papal visit.
Priests and diplomats describe the UAE as one of the least restrictive environments in the Gulf for Christian worship, which is allowed in church compounds with special licenses. But like other Gulf states it outlaws unsanctioned religious gatherings and non-Muslims must not proselytise.
Shadow of Yemen war
Shortly before departing for Abu Dhabi on Sunday, Francis said he was following the humanitarian crisis in Yemen with great concern, using his regular Sunday address in Vatican City to urge all sides to implement the deal and help deliver aid.
"Let us pray strongly because they are children who are hungry, who are thirsty, they don't have medicine and they are in danger of death," he said.
The war pitting the Houthi movement against the Saudi-led coalition loyal to ousted President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi has killed tens of thousands of people and left almost 16 million people facing severe hunger.