POPE Francis became the first pontiff ever to set foot on the Arabian Peninsula on Monday, as his historic visit to the United Arab Emirates got off to a grandiose start in Abu Dhabi.
The head of the Roman Catholic Church was greeted at the Presidential Palace by Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan and his entourage in the Emirati capital this morning.
Francis, 82, arrived in a humble Kia hatchback with a small group of clerics but was greeted with an artillery salute and military flyover after being escorted through the palace gardens by horse-mounted guards.
Even for a nation known for its excesses, the UAE's red-carpet welcome was a spectacle to behold and uncomfortably so given Francis' famously modest disposition.
The pontiff stood somberly as the Vatican and Emirati anthems played ahead of a Papal visit which will see him meet with Islamic and political leaders and celebrate an outdoor mass with around 135,000 Catholic worshippers.
Another highlight of his brief 40-hour trip will be a speech tonight to a gathering of faith leaders, a show of religious tolerance in a Muslim region known for its restrictions on religious freedom.
Speaking to journalists on his flight from Rome on Sunday, Francis made an appeal from the Vatican for urgent observation of a limited ceasefire in war-torn Yemen so that food and medicine can get to its crisis-hit population.
The UAE has been Saudi Arabia's main ally in the war in Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition is fighting the country's Houthi rebels – a conflict which has sparked the world's worst humanitarian crisis.
"I call on the concerned parties and the international community to assure the distribution of food and work for the well-bring of Yemeni people," Francis said.
The Argentine Pope's pre-trip appeal has reportedly been viewed as a way for him to avoid embarrassing his hosts by mentioning the Yemeni crisis during his speech tonight.
It isn't the first time Francis has pleaded for peace in the embattled nation, having used his Christmas mass in December to endorse peace talks and express hopes that a UN-brokered ceasefire "can finally bring relief to all those children and people exhausted by war and famine."