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Interior of the Catholic church at the Abrahamic Family House Screenshot/Twitter

ABU DHABI (LifeSiteNews) —The United Arab Emirates’ Abrahamic Family House opened last week with an interreligious meeting as Catholics, Muslims and Jews held their first ceremonies in the multi-faith center desired by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, Ahmed el-Tayeb.

On February 16, the Abrahamic Family House (AFH) held the inaugural ceremony to mark the grand opening of the center, which was directly born out of the 2019 Abu Dhabi document on Human Fraternity signed by both Francis and Ahmed el-Tayeb during the Pope’s 2019 visit to the UAE.

Comprising a church, a mosque, and a synagogue for the so-called “Abrahamic religions,” the AFH saw Catholic, Muslim, and Jewish leaders and representatives gathered for the site’s opening ceremony on Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi. 

Cardinal Miguel Ángel Ayuso Guixot, current president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, said that the AFH is a “concrete example for people of different religions, cultures, traditions, and beliefs to return to the essential: love of neighbor.” 

“This will be a place which promotes dialogue and mutual respect, and acts in the service of human fraternity as we walk the paths of peace together,” said the cardinal. 

These motifs were echoed by Professor Mohammed Al Mahrasawi, the co-chair of the Higher Committee for Human Fraternity and former President of Al-Azhar University. Linking the center to the Abu Dhabi document, Al Mahrasawi said that the AFH “is a true reflection of the provisions of the Document on Human Fraternity, which calls for ensuring peaceful coexistence.”  

“It is a testament to the vision of the United Arab Emirates and its leaders towards promoting interfaith dialogue and peace among all,” he said. “The Abrahamic Family House is a model of coexistence, reconciliation, and mutual respect for the sake of mankind.”

Also present at the opening were Lt. Gen Sheikh Saif bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior, and Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, the Minister of Tolerance and Coexistence.

Following the ceremony, the first Abrahamic Family House forum was held the next day, during which participants praised the Abu Dhabi document. Sheikh Mabarak Al Nahayan along with Cardinal Michael Fitzgerald, the President Emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, delivered the two keynote speeches.

‘A new phase in the history of religions’

The first Islamic Maghrib prayer was held in the mosque on February 16 with Jewish prayers in the synagogue held afterwards, on February 19. 

While the opening ceremony was for the center, the Catholic church on the site has yet to be consecrated. In lieu of a Mass, a “service” was held on February 19 by Cardinal Fitzgerald, the former president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.

Fitzgerald shared greetings from Pope Francis, and stated that the Pope “would also encourage all of us, gathered here today, to continue in the culture of dialogue as our path; to adopt mutual cooperation as our code of conduct; and to endeavour to make reciprocal understanding the constant method of our undertakings.” 

Praising how Catholics, Muslims and Jews could use the center to meet in “a spirit of openness and respect,” Fitzgerald then used Islamic terminology to refer to God, calling God the “Merciful Lord of Mercy, al-Rahman al-Rahim.

READ: Pope Francis’ ecumenical Abrahamic Family House project contradicts the teachings of Jesus

Bishop Paolo Martinelli, the apostolic vicar of Southern Arabia, also spoke at the service, where he highlighted the importance of the Abu Dhabi document for the future of the Catholic Church’s ecumenical relations under Pope Francis.

We have entered a new phase in the history of religions. With the Abu Dhabi document on Human Fraternity, a prophetic and far-sighted document, religions are presented in their original capacity to collaborate and contribute together to the formation of a more humane world, in which we all recognize ourselves as brothers and sisters, called to fraternity, to coexistence and tolerance, mutual acceptance and the promotion of justice and peace.

The church, a cube design with brutalist style internal architecture, has caused online controversy due to its name. The AFH official Twitter page described the church as “His Holiness Francis Church,” appearing to name it after Pope Francis. This description was also used in the official press release about the event by Abu Dhabi’s media office. However, the AFH’s website clarified that the church is actually named after St. Francis of Assisi, a point which Bishop Martinelli also stated.

The AFH as a product of the Abu Dhabi document denotes clearly the interreligious future which Pope Francis desires for the Catholic Church. The document infamously states: “The pluralism and the diversity of religions, colour, sex, race and language are willed by God in His wisdom, through which He created human beings.”

READ: Bp. Schneider: There is no divine positive will or natural right to the diversity of religions

Astana’s Bishop Athanasius Schneider has consistently warned against such statements – statements which are also contained in Pope Francis’ Fratelli Tutti. Schneider wrote that the Abu Dhabi document’s claim that the diversity of religions is willed by God “will surely one day be corrected by the Papal Magisterium of the Cathedra of St. Peter — the cathedra veritatis. Indeed, the Catholic Church is and will always remain in time (semper), in space (ubique) and in perennial consent (ab omnibus) “the pillar and bulwark of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15).”

READ: Pope Francis under fire for claiming ‘diversity of religions’ is ‘willed by God’

Consequently, the Abu Dhabi text has also been described as seeming to “overturn the doctrine of the Gospel” with its promotion of equality of religions in a form of “fraternity.” 

In 2019, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò went so far as to describe the planned AFH as “the Temple of the World Syncretic Neo-Religion…about to arise with its anti-Christic dogmas. “

The center’s designation as being for the three “Abrahamic religions” is also a point of contention. As LifeSite’s Jeanne Smits has reported:

Speaking of the so-called “Abrahamic religions” as variations on a single theme is deceptive. The Hebrews, who worshiped the true God, received the true promise of the Messiah but did not recognize Him. Jesus Christ brought the full revelation of the truth, revealing that the God of the Bible is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — and this revelation is complete so that nothing can be added on Earth to the deposit of the Faith. Islam violently rejects the truth about the Holy Trinity and rewrites and corrupts the inspired Holy Scriptures, giving the letter of the Koran a form of divine status since it is deemed “uncreated.”

Bishop Schneider has also taught that  faith is  found only in Christianity and “is applicable only to belief in the Holy Trinity–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit…When someone does not believe in the Holy Trinity, he has no faith but simply natural religion.”