His Holiness Pope Francis, head of the Catholic Church, arrived in Abu Dhabi on Sunday evening to begin his historic visit to the United Arab Emirates.

He was received at the airport by His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, and His Eminence Dr. Ahmad Al Tayyeb, Grand Imam of Al Azhar Al Sharif. A number of children lined up with bouquets of roses to welcome the Pope.

His Eminence Dr. Ahmad Al Tayyeb arrived in the UAE on Sunday and was also received by His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed.

In a statement, Sheikh Mohamed welcomed the visit of Pope Francis and Dr. Ahmad Al Tayyeb to the UAE. Expressing his great happiness, he said that the visit is especially important in promoting the values of fraternity, peace and peaceful coexistence. The visit is also significant because it reinforces ties of friendship and cooperation between the UAE and the Vatican, he said.

Sheikh Mohamed said that the UAE has been, and will continue to be, a beacon of tolerance, moderation, and coexistence. It will be a key participant in the dialogue of civilizations and cultures, he said and will continue to oppose intolerance and extremism regardless of its origin, thus embodying the noble human values it believes in as well as the openness and moderation that has always characterized its people.

Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al Azhar Al Sharif, he said, are universally respected and appreciated for their great humanitarian role in promoting dialogue and understanding across the world and their continuing efforts to defend just causes. They are also respected, he added, for rejecting conflict and war and promoting coexistence between people of different religious, sectarian and ethnic affiliations.

He went on to say that the visit of Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al Azhar to the UAE was especially significant as it occurs in the year which The President, His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, has declared as the Year of Tolerance.