VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis has said that he is “saddened” by the death of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, former president of the UAE and ruler of Abu Dhabi.
In a message, the leader of the Catholic church sent his condolences to newly appointed UAE president, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, and to the country’s people, invoking “an abundance of divine blessings.”
The Pope expressed his “heartfelt condolences and the assurance of my prayers for his eternal rest.”
“I likewise join the people of the Emirates in mourning his passing and paying tribute to his distinguished and far-sighted leadership in the service of the nation.”
The Catholic leader said he was “particularly grateful for the solicitude shown by His Highness to the Holy See and to the Catholic communities of the Emirates, and for his commitment to the values of dialogue, understanding and solidarity between peoples and religious traditions solemnly proclaimed by the historic Abu Dhabi Document and embodied in the Zayed Award for Human Fraternity.”
“May his legacy continue to inspire the efforts of men and women of good will everywhere to persevere in weaving bonds of unity and peace between the members of our one human family,” he added.
Francis also offered prayers for Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed as he takes up the responsibilities of the UAE presidency.
“Upon you, the members of your family, and upon all the beloved people of the United Arab Emirates, I cordially invoke an abundance of divine blessings.”
Friar Giuseppe Ciutti, an Italian priest who spent time in Iraq, told Arab News that this message from the Pope was “a clear sign of the personal (and) great respect he felt for Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan.”
“Pope Francis visited Abu Dhabi in 2019; that was the first visit of a Roman Catholic Church (leader) to the Arab Peninsula. During that trip the Pope … promoted values of fraternity, peace, and peaceful coexistence.”
On that visit, Francis paid tribute to the UAE as “a land that is trying to be a model of coexistence, of human brotherhood, and a meeting place among diverse civilizations and cultures.”
“Pope Francis always refers to that trip every time he talks about the progress in interreligious dialogue. His message can be read as a new sign of friendship by the Catholic (church) towards the Arab world,” he said.
The UAE is home to nearly a million Roman Catholics, most of them from the Philippines and India.