(AFP) -- As the United Arab Emirates welcomes Pope Francis, head of the Catholic Church, next week, it sends "a message of love and peace to the entire world," according to the head of the Syriac Orthodox Church in the UAE.
"The visit shows that the UAE embraces pluralism and diversity within its community and is the ideal place to host a meeting of civilisations and religions," Archbishop Mor Bartholomaeus Nathaniel Youssef told the Emirates News Agency, WAM.
The Archbishop is head of the Patriarchal Vicariate for the UAE and the Arab states of the Gulf of the Syriac Orthodox Patrriarchate of Antioch and All the East, one of the Oriental Orthodox churches.
The visit by Pope Francis, he said, "is very important and has many dimensions. It would not be taking place if both the visitor and his hosts did not share the spirit of tolerance, compassion and acceptance, regardless of their differences."
The underlying message of the visit, he added, "is that religions seek to serve mankind and to advance it, not to harm it."
Referring to the declaration of 2019 as the Year of Tolerance in the UAE, Archbishop Bartholomaeus noted that "this country has always taken this approach for many centuries, long before the establishment of the federation in 1971. Its history is full of examples of peaceful co-existence between Christians and Muslims, as shown by the discovery of a 7th Century AD Syriac monastery on Sir Bani Yas island. This shows that people of both faiths have always lived here in harmony."
The invitation extended to the Pope by the UAE, he continued, provides a way "to highlight its message as a tolerant country, which is home to many cultures, religions and sects. It will help to correct the wrong perceptions about moderate Islam, which rejects all extremist ideas."
That is particularly important, he noted, "in the light of the growing Islamophobia in some Western communities towards Arab and Islamic communities."
The Archbishop went on to express the hope that the visit by Pope Francis will help to draw attention to what he described as "the barbaric practices" from which Christians have suffered in parts of the Arab world, as a result of the actions of extremist groups such as Daesh.
"This is a dark part of our history that will never be erased. History will also remember those who supported them and stood by them in the face of evil," he added.
Though small, numbering around 5,000 families, the Syriac Orthodox community in the UAE is diverse in origin. It dates back to the late 1960s, when many Malayalam-speaking Syriac Christian families came from Kerala, India.
They were followed in the 1970s by other members of the Church from the Arab countries of the Middle East as well as by people of Middle Eastern origin who spoke Syriac and Arabic from Europe, the United States and Australia. In recent years, the community has grown because of the arrival of people seeking refuge from the conflicts in Iraq and Syria.