Pope Francis will become the first pontiff to visit the Arabian Peninsula on Sunday, just hours after issuing his strongest condemnation yet of the war in Yemen, where his host the United Arab Emirates has a leading military role.
Pope Francis, who will travel to the United Arab Emirates today, said he is following the humanitarian crisis in Yemen with great worry and urged all sides to respect international agreements and ensure food reaches suffering Yemenis.
“The population is exhausted by the long conflict and many, many children are suffering from hunger but they are not able to get to food deposits. The cry of these children and their parents rises up to God,” he told tens of thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square during his regular Sunday address.
“I appeal to all sides involved and to the international community to urgently press for respect of the agreements that have been reached, to guarantee the distribution of food, and work for the good of the population,” adding:
There are children who are hungry, they are thirsty, they don’t have medicine
The UAE has played a leading role in the Saudi-led military coalition waging a nearly four-year war against the Iran-aligned Houthi movement in Yemen in a conflict which has pushed the poorest country on the peninsula to the brink of famine. Francis will becomes the first pontiff to set foot on the Arabian Peninsula and is due to make two public addresses.
The United Nations is trying to implement a truce and troop withdrawal deal in the main Yemeni port of Hudaydah that was agreed in December talks as a trust-building step that could pave the way for political negotiations to end the conflict.
Vatican officials have said it is not clear whether Pope Francis will address the sensitive subject in public or private during his visit to Abu Dhabi, which is aimed at promoting interfaith dialogue.
The pope will spend less than 48 hours in the UAE, where he will meet Muslim leaders and celebrate an outdoor mass for some 120,000 Catholics. He has said the trip is an opportunity to write “a new page in the history of relations between religions”.
The UAE, which named 2019 its Year of Tolerance, says the visit reflects its history as a “cradle of diversity”.