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Pope Francis condemns Quran burning in interview with UAE newspaper

July 3, 2023 Catholic News Agency 6
Pope Francis at the general audience in St. Peter’s Square on June 28, 2023. / Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Rome Newsroom, Jul 3, 2023 / 04:35 am (CNA).

Pope Francis has spoken to Al-Ittihad in his first interview granted to an Arabic news outlet, according to the United Arab Emirates newspaper.

In the July 3 interview, the pope praised UAE authorities and spoke about interfaith cooperation, peace-building, and his 2019 Document on Human Fraternity.

Francis also commented on a protester’s burning of a Quran in Sweden on June 28. The Muslim holy book was burned by an Iraqi-born refugee outside a mosque in Stockholm. The incident has sparked outrage among Muslims around the world and led to a raid on the Swedish embassy in Iraq by Shia Muslim protestors.

After other recent permit requests were denied due to plans to burn copies of the Quran, the Swedish courts ruled that the protests should be allowed on the basis of freedom of expression, the BBC reported.

“I have been outraged and disgusted at such deeds,” Pope Francis said in response to a question about last week’s incident. “Any book considered sacred by its people must be respected out of respect for those who believe in it. The freedom of expression should never be used as an excuse to offend others. Allowing that is [to be] rejected and condemned.”

The papal interview was published in Arabic by Al-Ittihad with an English transcript provided to journalists.

In the interview, Pope Francis said “the future of interfaith cooperation is based on the principle of reciprocity, respect for the other and the truth.”

He said the message of every religion should be not only to call out evil, but also to promote peace: “Our task, without giving in to conciliatory measures, is to pray for one another, asking God for the blessing of peace, and to meet, dialogue and consolidate harmony in a spirit of cooperation and friendship.”

“Our task is to transform the religious sense into cooperation, fraternity, tangible acts of good,” he added.

The pope said fraternity, and caring for others, “must be directed to everyone without distinction.”

“If I only do good to those who think or believe like me, my benevolence is hypocrisy,” he said, “because good knows no discrimination nor exclusion.”

Francis called his Document on Human Fraternity, which he signed in 2019 in Abu Dhabi with the Grand Imam Ahmed el-Tayeb, an important text “for the peaceful coexistence of all human beings.”

“I would like to say that the document is a light that guides all men and women of good will on the path of coexistence and encounter. It is a roadmap for anyone who courageously chooses to be a peacemaker in our world torn apart by war, violence, hate and terror,” he said.

“Human fraternity,” he continued, “is the antidote the world needs to heal itself from the poison of these wounds.”

The pope also addressed young people and the onslaught of negativity, prejudice, and fake news they are faced with today.

He said youth need to know how to use the tools of “freedom, discernment and responsibility.”

“Freedom is what distinguishes man,” Francis said. “God created us free even to reject him. Today we can no longer force our youth not to think, to ask the question, to be skeptical, because the question is the way to the truth. And because freedom of conscience, freedom of belief, freedom of thought and freedom of expression are essential to help them grow and learn.”

“We can no longer force the youth of today, who hold in their hands cell phones that allow them to access any information, into darkness, ignorance, hatred and isolation,” he added.

Pope Francis also spoke about discernment, which he called a “gift from God” and “the ability to distinguish between the false and the true.”

Pope Francis praised Abu Dhabi’s Abrahamic Family House, which provides a common place for the three Abrahamic religions — Judaism, Christianity, and Islam — to worship.

The complex, which has a church, a synagogue, and a mosque, opened earlier this year.

“The Abrahamic Family House is a place for respecting diversity, which God willed, and not turning difference into contempt or a cause for conflict,” he said.

“It is a place of coexistence, tolerance and faith. Each of us can live his faith with respect for the other;s faith and human freedom,” he added. “Only those who are not sure of their faith live in fear of meeting others and rush into confrontation. A true believer lives his faith without feeling threatened by others and without the need to threaten others.”


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The Worldwide Women’s Rosary is coming to the United Arab Emirates

November 22, 2022 Catholic News Agency 2
In the United Arab Emirates, a group of women will join other women from around the world on Dec. 8, 2022, to honor the Virgin Mary in the Worldwide Women’s Rosary. / Credit: Facebook page St.Joseph’s Cathedral Abu Dhabi AUH

CNA Newsroom, Nov 22, 2022 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

Women from all over the world will join together Dec. 8 for the public recitation of a rosary to Our Lady. In the United Arab Emirates, where only 7% of the population professes Christianity, women are participating in the initiative in a special way.

Martha and Darío are a Colombian married couple living in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates. There they have developed an active faith life, and on Dec. 8 they will be part of a Catholic community that will join the Worldwide Women’s Rosary.

It was a job position for Darío that led him and his wife to move to the United Arab Emirates in 2008 and start their lives over, 8,000 miles from their native Colombia.

In an interview with ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language sister news agency, Darío said that during their first few years of living there they attended the celebration of the Eucharist in English at St. Joseph Cathedral in Abu Dhabi. An announcement during Mass led them to meet a group of Spanish-speaking people who were attending Mass in Spanish.

Some time later, Martha was asked to be in charge of coordinating the Mass, and with the help of her husband, who had experience in the life of the Church in Colombia, she undertook the task, joined by one of her friends.

Darío approached the then pastor of the cathedral to offer his help. From that moment on, he began working as a coordinator for the Spanish-speaking community.

Thus “began the activities aimed at the formation of a community, of a Spanish-speaking Catholic Church, in the midst of a parish that has countless different languages and cultures congregated in the same place,” he recalled.

The tasks followed one another: community outreach, locating rooms for catechesis, preparation of the Mass and soon there were some 220 families from countries such as Venezuela, Colombia, Mexico, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, Panama, and Spain.

The Catholic faith in the United Arab Emirates

Abu Dhabi belongs to the South Vicariate of the United Arab Emirates, a country where the official and most widespread religion among its inhabitants is Islam, at 75% of the population, and approximately 7% professing Christianity.

“It’s common to think that in a place where the Catholic faith is not the main recognized faith, different kinds of difficulties may arise,” Darío acknowledged.

“Here, on the contrary, we constantly receive ‘friendly challenges’ to faithfully demonstrate our faith to others in love, in charity, in respect, in tolerance,” he said.

The official language of the vicariate is English, but at St. Joseph Cathedral, Mass is offered in Spanish once a month.

The same is true of the Arab, Filipino, Sri Lankan, and Indian communities (in their different language groups), as well as small German-, French-, and Italian-speaking communities.

As for education in the faith, unlike in Latin America, catechesis is not directed toward sacramental preparation, but during the 12 years of primary and secondary school, catechesis is given on weekends as an extracurricular activity.

In the Spanish-speaking community, there is also catechesis for families whose children will receive the sacraments in their country of origin. “At the same time, parents receive their faith formation,” Darío explained.

Their connection to the rosary

At Martha’s initiative, since they arrived in Abu Dhabi, she and her husband began to pray the Pilgrim Holy Rosary in the homes of different people. Later, it was transferred to the cathedral, where a group of women met once a week.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the practice had to be suspended, and it hasn’t been possible to restart it because normal activities in the country only resumed two weeks ago.

The news about the Worldwide Women’s Rosary came through Fanny Tagle, a Chilean who participates in coordinating the initiative and who was a classmate of Darío’s in a professional development course. And so Tagle conveyed the proposal to him.

Martha and Darío took the idea to the parish, where the priest decided to support it, proposing to offer the intentions of the rosaries that are said in the half hour before each Mass from Dec. 5–8 for the Worldwide Women’s Rosary.

In the entire country, which is about the size of the state of Maine, there are only nine Catholic parishes, which means that “people of different cultures and different countries flock to the eucharistic celebrations.” Darío estimates that every Sunday some 15,000 people attend Mass.

On liturgical solemnities such as the Immaculate Conception on Dec. 8, it’s not possible to hold any activity outside of Mass, and the rosary cannot be prayed in the church.

During the month of October, the Catholic community of the United Arab Emirates celebrates the devotion to the holy rosary. A heavily attended rosary service is held to close the month’s events, and this year it brought together close to 1,300 people. It was the first one to be led by the new bishop of the vicariate, Paolo Martinelli.

To join the global initiative Dec. 8, the couple is considering meeting in a house and livestreaming it from there on the Facebook page of the Spanish-speaking community of Abu Dhabi.

Representatives from Argentina, Australia, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Spain, and the United States have already confirmed their participation in the Worldwide Women’s Rosary.

Also participating will be women from Guatemala, Honduras, Italy, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Uganda, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.