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DUBAI: Pope Francis has praised the UAE, describing it as a “modern country looking to the future without forgetting its roots.”

Speaking in a video message broadcast Sunday at the first day of the World Government Summit in Dubai, he said he hoped his visit to the UAE last week was the start of change.

“I carry in my heart the visit I just made to the UAE and the warm welcome I received,” he said.

“I encountered a modern country looking to the future without forgetting its roots. I saw a country seeking to transform into concrete initiatives the words tolerance, fraternity, mutual respect and freedom.”

Pope Francis’s historic visit to Abu Dhabi last week was the first by a pontiff to the Arabian Gulf and saw him lead the biggest open mass to be held in the region with a 180,000-strong congregation.

He said he returned home from a country that had risen from the desert in the hope that others could be equally successful.

“I believe it is possible,” he said.

“But only if we grow together, alongside one another, with openness and respect, willing to take on everyone’s problems.”

Addressing world governments, he spoke of political challenges, economic development, environmental protection and the use of technology.

He said he hoped the question underlying their reflections would not only be “what are the best opportunities to take advantage of?”, but rather “what kind of world to we want to build together?”

Pope Francis explained that this question pushed people to think of others rather than capital and economic interests.

“It is a question that does not look to tomorrow, but further into the future, to the responsibility weighing upon us,” he added.

“Handing on this world of ours to those who will come after us, preserving it from environmental degradation and, even before that, from moral degradation. We cannot speak of sustainable development without solidarity.”

During the Pope’s visit to the UAE he met with the Grand Imam of Al Azhar Al Sharif University and chairman of the Muslim Council of Elders, Dr Ahmed Al Tayeb.

The pair signed a pledge of commitment to tolerance and fraternity at the end of a day which also saw the Pontiff visit the Presidential Palace of the UAE and the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.

Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, said the Pope’s visit was historic and provided opportunities for the future.

“It opens a new page in the history of religions and in the dialogue of religions,” he said.

“They are two people of peace but who could have ever thought that those two symbols would overcome all limits and constraints to sign a new agreement of peace to overcome violence and hatred?”

He said their meeting in Abu Dhabi last week was aimed at relaying an important message.

“As they said to the world: peace is hard to achieve but it is not impossible,” he added.

“Some might wonder why those two religious symbols insist on brotherhood and the answer lies in one word: peace. Therefore, all of us should be courageous enough and assume our responsibilities to put an end to conflict and wars – we might not succeed but we will most definitely try,” he said.

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