Pope Francis will visit Abu Dhabi in February and Morocco in March, the first visit by a Pope to the Arabian peninsula, the Vatican said.
The pontiff was invited by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed ben Rashed Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, His Highness Sheikh Mohamed ben Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, and the local Catholic church.
Francis will take part in an international “interfaith” meeting during the trip, which will run from 3 to 5 February.
“We welcome the news of Pope Francis’ visit to the United Arab Emirates next February – a visit that 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,” His Highness Sheikh Mohammed ben Rashed Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, tweeted.
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 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.
“Pope Francis visiting the Arab world is a perfect example of the culture of encounter,” spokesman Greg Burke said.
The UAE prides itself on its religious tolerance and cultural diversity. The UAE trip will come head of a visit in March to Morocco. He had visited Egypt last year in April.
“I express my gratitude to the UAE government, which has made this visit possible. I urge the Christian community and our Catholic faithful that we respect and cooperate with the instructions of a special team, which is being put in place for the visit. The team will work closely with the government to ensure this visit goes smoothly and according to plan,” said Bishop Paul Hinder of the Arabian Vicariate of Southern Arabia (UAE, Oman and Yemen) in a statement.
“We welcome Pope Francis with open hearts,” he added.