An Interview with Alessandro Gisotti, the “ad interim” director of the Holy See Press Office, by Amedeo Lomonaco on the apostolic journey of Pope Francis in the United Arab Emirates, was scheduled from February 3-5. This is what transpired:
QUESTION: There are two main dimensions through which the apostolic journey of Pope Francis unfolds in the United Arab Emirates: interreligious dialogue and the meeting with the local Catholic community, about 900,000 people.
GISOTTI: It is an “historical” journey, which can be an important opportunity to promote and strengthen interreligious dialogue and to promote and strengthen a community, such as the Catholic one, extremely dynamic and especially formed of immigrants, particularly Asians, Filipinos, not only, who are in the United Arab Emirates for work reason.
Gisotti also recalled the link of this visit with Saint Francis.
GISOTTI: This journey has a historical significance: it is the first time that a Pope travels to the Arabian Peninsula, in particular to the United Arab Emirates. And it is the first time – and this is also historical – that a Pope celebrates Mass in this region.
It is evident that precisely these two dimensions, of inter-religious dialogue, in particular with the Muslims, and of the encounter with this particular community of Christians, will give the number and will also be the underlining of the messages that Pope Francis will give during these days.
QUESTION: It is also a journey in the sign of San Francesco…
GISOTTI: This is the frame in which this journey takes place in the United Arab Emirates, as well as the apostolic journey that Pope Francis will take in less than two months in Morocco. We are actually in the eighth centenary of the meeting between St. Francis and the sultan, Malik al Kamil.
There is a well-known story in the Legenda Maior, which refers precisely to how in 1219, during the fifth Crusade, there was this meeting. So there is this element of dialogue, of the meeting, of cohabitation, within which these two journeys are placed.
And Francis also mentioned this in his speech to the Diplomatic Corps on January 7th, in which he put together the two dimensions we will have on this trip: the importance of the presence of Christians in the region – and therefore also the invitation to the authorities of the States where these Christians are present, to be able to guarantee their presence and security – and at the same time the strengthening of dialogue with Muslims.
And this is a bit the figure of the Pontificate of Pope Francis also to block the road to the so-called “professionals of hate” who blows on divisions, fanaticism, and ideologies that exploit the name of God to justify violence.
Pope Francis: faith in God unites, does not divide.
QUESTION: A culture of encounter that is also marked by a special presence, which is that of the great imam of al-Azhar.
GISOTTI: This is another fundamental element of the journey. Some might ask why in the United Arab Emirates: in this state, there is the seat of the Muslim Council of Elders, or the Council of the Muslim Sages, presided over by the great Imam of al-Azhar, al-Tayeb. This is an institution founded in 2014 and which wants to promote dialogue, peace, through the eminent personalities of the Muslim world, of which al-Tayeb evidently represents the synthesis and the greatest importance.
We also know how, with the great Imam, Francis began a journey of encounter, of dialogue: this will be the fifth time they meet. The first meeting was in 2016, the last in October 2018.
And then, above all, we must remember that great event to which this interreligious meeting in Abu Dhabi on human fraternity is also linked, which was the International Conference of peace and interreligious dialogue, right in Cairo, at the end of April 2017.
The Pope and the great Imam emphasized the importance of peaceful coexistence, of dialogue and of a journey together of the great faiths and of the great religions, for the peace and against all forms of violence.
QUESTION: On the last day of the trip, the Pope celebrates Mass…
GISOTTI: Surely it is the culminating moment for the community of faithful that is in the United Arab Emirates and that was really surprised by this possibility. We know that the trip was announced on December 6th, and so it was organized in no time. But, also speaking with Msgr. Hinder, Apostolic Vicar of Southern Arabia, shared with me the great joy of this people of migrant Christians.And so this is another element that surely touches the heart of Pope Francis.