Pope to visit United Arab Emi­rates in Fe­bru­ary

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - REGION -

VAT­I­CAN CITY: Pope Fran­cis, who has made boost­ing ties be­tween Chris­tian­ity and Is­lam a cor­ner­stone of his pa­pacy, will visit Abu Dhabi in Fe­bru­ary, the Vat­i­can said Thurs­day, be­com­ing the first ever pope to visit the Ara­bian penin­sula.

The pon­tiff, who turns 82 on Dec. 17, has al­ready vis­ited sev­eral Mus­lim coun­tries, in­clud­ing Turkey in 2014, Azer­bai­jan in 2016 and Egypt in 2017. He is sched­uled to visit Mo­rocco in March.

The pon­tiff was in­vited to the ma­jor­ity-Mus­lim coun­try by both Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mo­ham­mad bin Zayed Al-Nahyan and the lo­cal Catholic church.

“The UAE is de­lighted to wel­come His Ho­li­ness Pope Fran­cis on the up­com­ing visit to the UAE,” tweeted the sheikh, who met Pope Fran­cis at the Vat­i­can in 2016.

“He is a sym­bol of peace, tol­er­ance and the pro­mo­tion of brother­hood. We look for­ward to a his­toric visit, through which we will seek di­a­logue on the peace­ful co­ex­is­tence among peo­ples,” he said.

Pope Fran­cis will take part in an in­ter­na­tional “in­ter­faith” meet­ing dur­ing the trip, which will run from Feb. 3-5.

The Vat­i­can said the theme for the Abu Dhabi trip was summed up in the phrase “make me a chan­nel of your peace” – a quote from Saint Fran­cis of As­sisi, the Catholic pope’s name­sake.

The hope was the visit would “spread in a spe­cial way the peace of God within the hearts of all peo­ple of good will,” it said.

“This visit, like the one to Egypt, shows the fun­da­men­tal im­por­tance the holy fa­ther gives to in­ter-re­li­gious di­a­logue,” spokesman Greg Burke said.

“Pope Fran­cis vis­it­ing the Arab world is a per­fect ex­am­ple of the cul­ture of en­counter,” he added.

Bishop Paul Hin­der of the Apos­tolic Vi­cari­ate of South­ern Ara­bia, which en­com­passes UAE, Oman and Ye­men, elab­o­rated: “The gen­eros­ity of the UAE gov­ern­ment has also been ex­tended in mak­ing it pos­si­ble to cel­e­brate a Mass, which will be on Feb. 5 at a pub­lic venue in Abu Dhabi. These are warm and kind ges­tures that we ap­pre­ci­ate and ac­knowl­edge.”

The UAE prides it­self on its re­li­gious tol­er­ance and cul­tural di­ver­sity, and most Gulf Arab states have long al­lowed Chris­tians to wor­ship in churches.

Nearly 80 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion of the UAE is Mus­lim, while Chris­tians con­sti­tute around 9 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to the Catholic News Agency.

Many of the Catholics are work­ers from Africa, Bangladesh, In­dia, Pak­istan and the Philip­pines, though some are lo­cals.

The pope’s visit “will strengthen our ties and un­der­stand­ing of each other,” UAE’s Vice Pres­i­dent Sheikh Mo­ham­mad bin Rashid al-Mak­toum said on Twit­ter.

Pope Fran­cis will make the jour­ney just a week after re­turn­ing from Panama, where he will take part in the World Youth Day rally.

The tire­less pon­tiff will then head off to Mo­rocco.

Pope Fran­cis moved quickly after his elec­tion in 2013 to make over­tures to Jews and Mus­lims, invit­ing two old friends from Buenos Aires – a rabbi and a Mus­lim pro­fes­sor – on a trip to the Mid­dle East where he con­demned re­li­gious ha­tred.

But the Catholic church has found it harder to bridge dif­fer­ences with Is­lam than with Ju­daism.

Bene­dict XVI an­gered the Mus­lim world with a speech in 2006 in which he ap­peared to en­dorse the view that Is­lam is in­her­ently vi­o­lent, spark­ing deadly protests in sev­eral coun­tries as well as at­tacks on Chris­tians.

Since then the Vat­i­can’s pon­tif­i­cal coun­cil for in­ter-re­li­gious di­a­logue has been work­ing over­time to mend fences with Is­lam. –

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