The lady on my left had tears streaming down her face; the couple in front of me seemed in total awe as they clicked selfies and pictures; and the scores of people surrounding me were chanting “we love you!”
As I took the whole scenario in and looked at my parents beside me, I realised that I am actually taking part in a historical moment... I was one of the 120,000 people or so attending a Pope’s first visit ever to a Muslim country!
Wow! I was there for it! And what a visit it was!
The day felt like a pilgrimage, with us joining hundreds of visitors, and UAE residents, at 3am, queuing for the buses at the designated pick up points and ending it at about 2pm, with hundreds again walking to the pick up areas, this time though not so bushy-tailed, but rather tired, but somehow elated!
I enjoyed watching every minute of it: The arrival, with a young 12-year-old Emirati boy welcoming Pope Francis in Spanish; the signing of the ‘Human Fraternity Declaration’ between the Pope and Dr Ahmed Al Tayeb, Grand Imam of Al Azhar; and of course last but not least the Papal mass.
Tolerance: The ability or willingness to tolerate the existence of opinions or behaviour that one dislikes or disagrees with.
And if this definition is anything to go by, then the UAE has certainly demonstrated this, with Pope Francis’ visit.
On December 15, last year, UAE leader Shaikh Khalifa bin Zayed declared 2019 as the Year of Tolerance.
The announcement was more than just a title or a theme to the year.
It was a global message: One that aims at bridging communication between people of different cultures and rejecting extremism.
The Year of Tolerance in fact has a focus on five main ‘pillars’:
- To deepen the values of tolerance and co-existence among cultures by teaching the youth the values of tolerance
- To solidify the UAE as the global capital for tolerance through a series of initiatives, projects and dialogues between various cultures and civilisations
- To implement multiple cultural programmes and make contributions to build tolerant communities
- To focus on legislative and policy-oriented objectives that contribute to mandating cultural and religious tolerance via dialogue
- To promote tolerance through targeted media initiatives and projects.
It seems that the UAE has taken the first steps towards making sure these five pillars are met and are sending a clear message to the world, as leaders they stand together in the fight against racism, terrorism and war.
And I am all for that message.
Reem Antoon is a former GDN news editor. She can be reached on: firstname.lastname@example.org