To follow Pope Francis’ visit to the UAE is to “witness history in the making,” Bishop Paul Hinder said in a press statement released last night.

The apostolic vicar of Southern Arabia, whose flock includes those in the UAE, Oman and Yemen, noted that the first ever visit by a Roman Pontiff to the Arabian Peninsula was a “red letter day” not only for the UAE’s one million Catholics, but also further afield. 

“We have waited with bated breath to see this momentous day, since the announcement two months ago,” the Swiss apostolic vicar said. “It gives me great joy to welcome you Your Holiness Pope Francis.” 

After expressing his “deep gratitude” to UAE’s rulers, Bishop Hinder recalled the “humble beginnings” of the Church in the UAE, praised the country for its tolerance, and hoped for a fruitful outcome to today’s “Human Fraternity” meeting. 

Here below is Bishop Hinder’s full statement:

Abu Dhabi, UAE: February 3, 2019 

Tonight, we witness history in the making. In the two thousand years of the Catholic Church’s existence, today marks the first ever visit by a Pontiff to the Arabian Peninsula. 
This indeed is a red letter day not just for the one million Catholics in the UAE but an unprecedented moment for Catholics around the world: across the wider Middle East- from Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq and Egypt; to our neighbors on the Asian continent and our fellow Catholics in Europe, Africa and the Americas. We have waited with bated breath to see this momentous day, since the announcement two months ago. It gives me great joy to welcome you Your Holiness Pope Francis! 
With deep gratitude, we thank His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE's Armed Forces who made this visit to Abu Dhabi not only possible but also generously offered his good offices in leaving no stone unturned to make this historic trip go as smoothly as possible. In every aspect of the Papal Visit orchestration, the government and authorities have shown nothing less than generosity, respect and a spirit of collaboration 
This evening, I feel immense pastoral pride when I look back at the humble beginnings of the Catholic Church in the UAE. It was in Abu Dhabi that the first Catholic Church emerged in 1965 and today we are 9 Churches strong in the UAE, including one that is counted among the largest parishes in the world. 
It is an honour to be the Apostolic Vicar of Southern Arabia (The UAE, Oman and Yemen). Moreover, I am proud to be serving as a Bishop to the faithful in a country whose pioneering rulers set the bar for leadership, one that is testimony to the power of tolerance. Our world today is becoming increasingly fragmented, contentious and divisive; and the gap between poverty and plenty continues to widen. More than a third of the global population is displaced and the migration crisis has reached fever pitch. The resonance of this visit to the United Arab Emirates, where people of over 200 nationalities live and work in harmony, will ring loud for years to come. 
It seems only fitting that one of the world’s most cherished proponents of tolerance and peace is finally setting foot in a country that has long championed and preserved these values. Your Holiness, we pray that your encounter with the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, Dr. Ahmed Al Tayeb and other religious leaders at the ‘Human Fraternity’ meeting yields a fruitful outcome. May it lead to a paradigm shift not just in relations between Christians and Muslims but in people’s thoughts and minds around the world when it comes to religious freedom and acceptance of each other’s beliefs! 
We continue to work under your guidance, Pope Francis, and pray that we can all strive to be a channel for peace.
Bishop Paul Hinder 
Apostolic Vicar of Southern Arabia (The UAE, Oman and Yemen)