The flag of the United Arab Emirates. / Vinnikava Viktoryia/Shutterstock.
Vatican City, May 20, 2022 / 08:40 am (CNA).
Pope Francis has sent condolences following the death of the United Arab Emirates’ president Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
“I offer Your Highness my heartfelt recognition and the assurance of my prayers for his eternal rest. I likewise join the people of the Emirates in mourning his passing and paying tribute to his distinguished and far-sighted leadership in the service of the nation,” Pope Francis wrote in the message sent on May 17.
“I am particularly grateful for the solicitude shown by His Highness to the Holy See and to the Catholic communities of the Emirates, and for his commitment to the values of dialogue, understanding, and solidarity between peoples and religious traditions solemnly proclaimed by the historic Abu Dhabi Document and embodied in the Zayed Award for Human Fraternity.”
Sheikh Khalifa died on May 13 at the age of 73. He had been in ailing health after suffering a stroke and undergoing surgery in 2014.
The pope addressed the message to Khalifa’s successor, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who had been the de-facto ruler of the country since Khalifa’s health worsened.
He has led the country’s foreign policy, which has included deploying warplanes in Libya in 2017 and joining the Saudi-led coalition in the war in Yemen before withdrawing its forces in 2020.
Sheikh Mohammed, the Abu Dhabi crown prince often also referred to as MBZ, officially became the president of the UAE on May 14.
Pope Francis is welcomed to the United Arab Emirates by Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, at the presidential palace, Feb. 4, 2019. . Vatican Media.
In the message, Pope Francis offered his prayers for Sheikh Mohammed in his new official role as ruler.
Pope Francis wrote: “In commending His Highness prayers to the eternal mercies of the Most High God, I assure you also of my prayers as you enter upon the responsibilities of your lofty office.”
“Upon you, the members of your Family, and upon all the beloved people of the United Arab Emirates, I cordially invoke an abundance of divine blessings.”
The Vatican has maintained close ties with the UAE since the pope’s trip to Abu Dhabi in 2019.
Cardinals and Roman Curia officials, including Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Archbishop Edgar Peña Parra, and Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi, have made trips to the peninsula in the past year as the Vatican and the UAE collaborated on a several events and initiatives, including the Higher Committee of Human Fraternity.
Vatican officials traveled to the UAE last July to honor Sheikh Mohammed with the “Man of Humanity” award from the Vatican Congregation for Education at a ceremony held in the Emirates Palace.
This week a press conference on the Vatican was canceled in light of the president’s death. The press conference, originally scheduled for May 17, was being held in Rome to present the “Interfaith Meeting in Abu Dhabi on Religion, Ethics and Artificial Intelligence.”
The UAE has announced a 40-day mourning period following Sheikh Khalifa’s death.
“May his legacy continue to inspire the efforts of men and women of good will everywhere to persevere in weaving bonds of unity and peace between the members of our one human family,” Pope Francis said.