Pope Francis, visiting the Gulf, denounces Yemen war and pushes for religious freedom

click to enlarge Pope Francis arrives at the airport in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Feb. 3, 2019. The pope on Sunday became the first pontiff to visit the Arabian Peninsula, on a trip intended to improve relations with the Muslim world and bolster the Mideast’s persecuted Christian minority. - ANDREW MEDICHINI/POOL VIA THE NEW YORK TIMES
Andrew Medichini/Pool via The New York Times
Pope Francis arrives at the airport in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Feb. 3, 2019. The pope on Sunday became the first pontiff to visit the Arabian Peninsula, on a trip intended to improve relations with the Muslim world and bolster the Mideast’s persecuted Christian minority.

By Jason Horowitz
New York Times News Service

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Pope Francis used the keynote address of his roughly 40-hour stay in the United Arab Emirates to breach delicate taboos Monday, specifically mentioning Yemen, where his hosts are engaged in a brutal war, and calling on countries throughout the Gulf region to extend citizenship rights to religious minorities.

The remarks by Francis were exceptionally candid for a pope who as a general rule does not criticize the country that hosts him and avoids drawing undue attention to the issues that its rulers would rather not discuss. Rather, he often weighs in diplomatically before landing in the country, or waits until he crosses the border to the next.

But on Monday, during the first visit by a pope to the Arabian Peninsula, where Islam was born, Francis was blunt in a speech before hundreds of leaders from a broad array of faiths on a day used to underscore the need for humanity to stop committing violence in the name of religion.


“Human fraternity requires of us, as representatives of the world’s religions, the duty to reject every nuance of approval from the word ‘war,'” Francis said at the towering Founder’s Memorial in Abu Dhabi.

“Let us return it to its miserable crudeness,” he added. “Its fateful consequences are before our eyes. I am thinking in particular of Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Libya.”

Later in the speech, the pope called for “societies where people of different beliefs have the same right of citizenship and where only in the case of violence in any of its forms is that right removed.”

Citizenship rights in the United Arab Emirates are predominantly reserved for native-born Muslims. There are a million Christian migrants in the country, but throughout the larger region they are suffering persecution and bloodshed and are essentially disappearing.


After his speech, Francis and Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, the grand imam of an influential Egyptian mosque, Al-Azhar, signed a “Document on Human Fraternity.”

The document, a sort of manifesto of peace for two religions whose adherents have spilled each others’ blood for centuries, called upon “all concerned to stop using religions to incite hatred, violence, extremism and blind fanaticism, and to refrain from using the name of God to justify acts of murder, exile, terrorism and oppression.”

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