Pope Francis calls for end to wars in Yemen and Syria

Pope Francis celebrates a holy mass as part of the 23rd World Day for Consecrated Life

Pope Francis has become the first pontiff to visit the Arabian Peninsula, 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.

Francis also delivered an address at an interfaith meeting attended by Sheikh Ahmed and UAE leaders, and pushed for an end to all wars in the Middle East, including in Yemen.

Some 4,000 tickets had been given to Muslims to attend the mass, according to the local churches.

These were Christians from the peripheries, in other words, people whom Francis has made it his pontificate's mission to embrace.

Even for a nation known for its excesses, the Emiratis' red-carpet welcome was remarkable for a pope who prides himself on simplicity.

Francis' other main initiative in Abu Dhabi is a giant Mass on Tuesday in the city's main sports arena that is expected to draw some 135,000 people in what some have called the largest show of public Christian worship on the Arabian Peninsula.

Pope Francis in turn gave the crown prince a framed medallion of the meeting between St. Francis Assisi the pope's namesake and the Sultan of Egypt Malek al-Kamel, in 1219. Since then, religious fanaticism and faith-inspired wars have only grown around the globe, inspiring the pontiff's efforts to promote tolerance and understanding.

He arrived at Abu Dhabi Presidential Airport where he was greeted by Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed and Dr. Ahmed Al Tayeb, grand imam of Al Azhar Al Sharif University, The National reported.

Of the over 9 million people living in the UAE, only around 1 million are Emirati; all the others are drawn to the country in rapid economic expansion to find employment in all sectors, from white-collar office jobs to construction work and domestic labour.

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Sheikh Tayeb and the pope signed a document of "human fraternity" which carried a message against religious extremism. Otherwise they warn of a "third world war being fought piecemeal".

Yemen is the scene of what the United Nations calls the world´s worst humanitarian crisis, triggered by the intervention of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and their allies in a war between the government and Houthi rebels.

As Francis began his trip, human rights groups that are banned from the UAE urged him to use his visit to press for accountability by the Emirati leadership for atrocities in the war in Yemen and its repression of dissent at home.

The UAE, which dubbed 2019 its Year of Tolerance, says the visit reflects its history as a "cradle of diversity".

"They're certainly not tolerant of any form of political dissent", he said.

The document urged tolerance, declaring they "call upon ourselves, upon the leaders of the world as well as the architects of worldwide policy and world economy, to work strenuously to spread the culture of tolerance and of living together in peace; to intervene at the earliest opportunity to stop the shedding of innocent blood and bring an end to wars, conflicts, environmental decay and the moral and cultural decline that the world is presently experiencing".

"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.

"The time has come when religions should more actively exert themselves, with courage and audacity, and without pretense, to help the human family deepen the capacity for reconciliation, the vision of hope and the concrete paths of peace", he added.

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