ABU DHABI: Pope Francis met with Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb, the imam of Al-Azhar, and Emirati leaders on Monday on the first full day of his historic visit to the United Arab Emirates.
In a trip laden with interfaith symbolism and messages of religious tolerance, the Pope toured the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi where he met the Muslim Council of Elders.
Pope Francis then traveled to the Founder's Memorial – a tribute to the UAE's founding father, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, where he was expected to give a speech
Earlier, the pontiff arrived at Abu Dhabi's presidential palace, where he was welcomed with a lavish military parade. Officers fired 21 shots in the air, while jets flew overhead leaving white and yellow trails – the colours of the Vatican City flag.
Pope Francis met Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces.
Sheikh Mohammed said on Monday that UAE rulers were "delighted" to meet the pontiff "in our homeland of tolerance."
"We discussed enhancing cooperation, consolidating dialogue, tolerance, human coexistence and important initiatives to achieve peace, stability and development for peoples and societies," he tweeted.
Pope Francis, who touched down in Abu Dhabi on Sunday night, said he came "as a brother, in order to write a page of dialogue together, and to travel paths of peace together".
The pontiff offered 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.
Sheikh Mohammed, in turn, offered a deed for the plot of land on which the first church in the UAE was built.