Pope Francis arrives in UAE for historic visit to Arabian Peninsula

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Pope Francis arrives in UAE for historic visit to Arabian Peninsula
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Pope Francis arrived in the United Arab Emirates on Sunday for a historic visit to the Arabian Peninsula.

The Pope will spend less than 48 hours in the UAE, where he will meet Muslim leaders in an effort to promote interfaith dialogue.

He has described the visit as an opportunity to write "a new page in the history of relations between religions".

He will also celebrate an outdoor mass for some for some 135,000 Catholics, an unprecedented event in the Arabian peninsula.

About two million expatriate Catholics live in the Arabian peninsula, many of them migrant workers. About half of them live in the UAE who said the visit reflects its history as a "cradle of diversity".

Peace Gathering in Abu Dhabi

Before leaving for Abu Dhabi, Francis said he was following the humanitarian crisis in Yemen with great concern and urged all sides to implement a peace deal and deliver aid to millions suffering from famine in the war-torn country during his regular Sunday mass in Vatican City.

"I appeal to all sides involved and to the international community to urgently press for respect of the agreements that have been reached, guarantee the distribution of food, and work for the good of the population," he told the crowd. "I invite everybody to pray strongly for our brothers in Yemen."

UAE's Foreign Minister Anwar Gargash said on Twitter they welcomed the Pope's message on Yemen and believes the peace deal he referred to was a historic breakthrough.

"Let us assure its implementation and make 2019 the year of peace in Yemen," he said.

The UAE plays an important role in the Saudi-led coalition against the Iran-aligned Houthi movement that controls the Yemeni capital. In December, the warring parties agreed on a ceasefire at the first major peace talks of the nearly four-year-old war.

The UN is trying to implement a truce and troop withdrawal deal in the Yemeni port of Hodeidah, which could be a step towards the end of the conflict.

It’s not clear whether Pope Francis will raise the subject during his visit.

Francis was greeted by Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, who escorted him to meet Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of Egypt's Al-Azhar mosque and university, a main seat of Sunni Islam education.

WAM/Handout via REUTERS
Pope Francis, Head of the Catholic Church shakes hands with Sheikh Ahmed Mohamed el-Tayeb, Egyptian Imam of al-Azhar Mosque, upon his arrival at Abu Dhabi International airport in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, February 3, 2019.WAM/Handout via REUTERS

US Secretary of State Department, Mike Pompeo, welcomed the pope's historic visit to the region.