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Pope Francis asks God to bring UAE 'peace and fraternal solidarity' on historic trip

Pontiff is the first head of the Catholic Church to set foot on the Arabian Peninsula
Pope Francis meets Vice-President of the United Arab Emirates and ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, and Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan during a welcome ceremony at the Presidential Palace in Abu Dhabi (Reuters)

Pope Francis met leaders of the United Arab Emirates in Abu Dhabi on Monday, the first time a pontiff has ever set foot on the Arabian Peninsula.

Writing in the royal palace’s guest book in Abu Dhabi, Francis asked that God grant the UAE "divine blessings of peace and fraternal solidarity".

The Emirates has a significant population of foreign workers who are Catholics, from countries such as the Philippines and India, with nine Catholic churches.

On Monday Francis is set to address an interfaith conference, while on Tuesday he is set to take mass in an Abu Dhabi sports stadium in front of an estimated 135,000 people.

The UAE is currently fighting in Yemen as part of a Saudi-led coalition that has been accused of war crimes.

It is also locked in a dramatic feud with its neighbour Qatar, which - along with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt - it has placed under a blockade.

Expressions of support for Qatar in the UAE can result in a jail sentence of up to 15 years and fines of $136,000.

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Ahead of the trip, Vatican officials said it was not clear whether the pope would address the war in Yemen with Emirati leaders on his three-day trip.

However he brought up the conflict, which has taken tens of thousands of lives and pushed millions to the brink of famine, in a sermon on Sunday, in which he urged all sides to implement a ceasefire deal and allow aid to pass unhindered.

"Let us pray strongly because they are children who are hungry, who are thirsty, they don't have medicine and they are in danger of death," he said.

As the pontiff arrived at the royal palace in Abu Dhabi on Monday he was met with a flyover of jets leaving streams of yellow and white, the colours of the Vatican’s flag.

The trip has been warmly received by media in next-door Saudi Arabia.

Arab News called the meeting between the UAE’s de-facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed and the pope "the moment that made history on the Arabian Peninsula."

The English-language paper said Muslim and Catholic officials said Saudi Arabia could follow suit in the future and host the pontiff.

Francis has said he hopes the trip to the UAE will turn "a new page in the history of relations between religions".