Pope Francis said Tuesday he sensed “good will to bring about a process of peace” in Yemen during his meetings with officials from the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia‘s key ally in the war.
Francis acknowledged that after only two days in Abu Dhabi and discussions with only a few people “it’s difficult to offer an opinion.” But speaking to reporters en route home, he said: “I found good will to bring about a process of peace” in the conflict.
Francis was also asked what he made of the Emirates’ military-heavy welcome ceremony, which featured an artillery salute and an aircraft flyover that trailed the yellow and white smoke of the Holy See. Even by the UAE’s excessive standards, the welcome was unusually grand and not exactly in Francis’ simple style.
Francis, who was making the first-ever visit to the Arabian Peninsula by a pope, said he viewed the ceremony as a gesture of good will that was appropriate for the culture of his hosts.
“What I found here was a welcome so big that they wanted to do everything, big and little things, to show that the pope’s visit was good,” he said. “They wanted to make me feel that I was welcome.”
Francis added that he did indeed feel welcome, and was struck in particular by the wisdom of the Muslim elders with whom he met and the wide diversity of people who live in the Emirates.
He also praised the courage of a little girl who broke through the police barricades to hand-deliver a letter to the pope as he zoomed around Abu Dhabi’s sports stadium before Mass in his pope mobile. The child dashed so quickly that police couldn’t catch her.
“This child has a future!” Francis exclaimed. “I liked that. You have to have courage to do that.” He laughed and added, “Dare I say, ‘Her poor husband …'”