Pope first to visit Ara­bian Penin­sula on UAE stop

Times Colonist - - Religion And Spirituality -

VAT­I­CAN CITY — Pope Fran­cis plans to visit the United Arab Emi­rates in Fe­bru­ary to push for Chris­tian-Mus­lim di­a­logue and peace in the first-ever pa­pal visit to the Ara­bian Penin­sula.

The Feb. 3-5 trip to Abu Dhabi cen­tres around an in­ter­faith meet­ing, the Vat­i­can said on Thurs­day. Fran­cis will also have the chance to meet with po­lit­i­cal lead­ers as well as the UAE’s Catholic com­mu­nity, which is made up al­most ex­clu­sively of for­eign work­ers.

It’s the lat­est trip to be an­nounced in what is shap­ing up to be one of Fran­cis’ busiest years for for­eign travel, with trips to Cen­tral Amer­ica, North Africa and now the Gulf con­firmed, and ones to Asia and East Africa un­der con­sid­er­a­tion.

While Fran­cis has vis­ited other Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity nations, in­clud­ing Egypt, Turkey and Jor­dan, the UAE trip will mark the first pas­toral visit by a pope to the Ara­bian Penin­sula. Pope Paul VI vis­ited Iran in 1970.

The theme of the UAE trip is peace, with the logo fea­tur­ing a dove car­ry­ing an olive branch.

Vat­i­can spokesman Greg Burke noted that the trip, like one last year to Egypt, shows the im­por­tance Fran­cis places on in­ter-re­li­gious di­a­logue.

“Pope Fran­cis vis­it­ing the Arab world is a per­fect ex­am­ple of the cul­ture of en­counter,” Burke said in a state­ment.

Sheikh Mo­hammed bin Rashid Al Mak­toum, the ruler of Dubai and the UAE’s vice-pres­i­dent and prime minister, wel­comed news of the Pope’s visit.

The visit “will strengthen our ties and un­der­stand­ing of each other, en­hance in­ter­faith di­a­logue and help us to work to­gether to main­tain and build peace among the nations of the world,” he tweeted.

Fran­cis, who turns 82 this month, will make the trip just a week af­ter re­turn­ing home from Panama, where he is due to visit Jan. 22-27 to par­tic­i­pate in the Catholic Church’s World Youth Day rally.

In March, Fran­cis is due to travel to Morocco, while a 2019 trip to Ja­pan is also un­der con­sid­er­a­tion. The car­di­nal from Mada­gas­car has said Fran­cis is ex­pected to visit next year.

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