Abu Dhabi, Dec 6, 2018: Pope Francis will visit the UAE for the first time in what will be a landmark moment for interfaith relations and Catholics in the Gulf.
The Vatican announced the visit to the country on February 3-5 on Thursday.
The news follows an official invitation from the UAE that was delivered in person by Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, in June and a visit to the Vatican in 2016 by Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces.
It is estimated there are about one million Christians in the UAE or roughly 10 per cent of the country’s population.
Many are Catholics from the Philippines, India and African nations though there are many Christian churches and religious denominations in the emirates.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, said the visit would “strengthen our ties and understanding of each other”.
Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed said Pope Francis 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 has made boosting ties between Christianity and Islam a cornerstone of his papacy.
The 81-year old has already visited several Muslim countries, including Turkey in 2014, Azerbaijan in 2016 and Egypt in 2017.
The Vatican said 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.