Vastavam web: Pope Francis will become the first pontiff to visit the Arabian Peninsula on Sunday, just hours after issuing his strongest condemnation yet of the war in Yemen, where his host the United Arab Emirates has a leading military role. The pope said in his regular Sunday address in Vatican City that he was following the urgent humanitarian crisis in Yemen with great concern. He urged all sides to implement a fragile peace deal and help deliver aid to millions of hungry people.
“The cry of these children and their parents rise up to God,” he told tens of thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square. “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 before boarding his flight to the UAE capital Abu Dhabi. The United Nations is trying to implement a truce and troop withdrawal deal in the main Yemeni port of Hodeidah that was agreed in December talks as a trust-building step that could pave the way for political negotiations to end the conflict.
Vatican officials have said it is not clear whether Pope Francis will address the sensitive subject in public or private during his visit to Abu Dhabi, which is aimed at promoting interfaith dialogue. The UAE, which named 2019 its Year of Tolerance, says the visit reflects its history as a “cradle of diversity”.
But it faces criticism from human rights groups for jailing activists, including Ahmed Mansoor, an Emirati who is serving a 10-year sentence for criticising the government on social media. “We are calling on Pope Francis to raise the issue of their incarceration with his hosts, and urge their immediate and unconditional release,” Amnesty International said in a statement on Saturday.
Priests and diplomats describe the UAE as one of the most open environments in the Gulf for Christian worship. But like its neighbours, the UAE does not allow dissent or criticism of its leadership.