.- Pope Francis will travel to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates Feb. 3-5 to participate in an international interfaith meeting, the Vatican announced Thursday.
“This visit, like the one to Egypt, shows the fundamental importance the Holy Father gives to inter-religious dialogue. Pope Francis visiting the Arab world is a perfect example of the culture of encounter,” papal spokesman Greg Burke said Dec. 6.
The papal trip is the second visit to a Muslim country scheduled for 2019; Pope Francis will also visit Morocco March 30-31.
The Abu Dhabi trip’s theme is “Make Me a Channel of Your Peace,” a line taken from a prayer by St. Francis of Assisi, with a focus on “how all people of goodwill can work for peace,” according to the Holy See Press Office.
Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan issued an invitation to Pope Francis, along with the Catholic Church in United Arab Emirates.
“We look forward to the pope’s historic visit aimed to maximize opportunities for dialogue and coexistence among nations,” the crown prince said, according to Al Arabiya.
Catholics in the U.A.E. are under the territorial jurisdiction of the Vicariate of Southern Arabia, which also includes the countries of Oman and Yemen. Swiss-born Bishop Paul Hinder OFM has served as Apostolic Vicar since 2005.
The Apostolic Vicariate was first established in 1888 by French Capuchin Franciscans, and was later entrusted Italian Capuchins 1916.
The official religion of the United Arab Emirates is Islam with a Sunni Muslim majority. About 12.6 percent of the total population is Christian, according to the Pew Research Center.
“Individuals belonging to non-Islamic faiths said they could worship in private without government interference but faced restrictions on practicing their religion in public,” according to the U.S. State Department.
The United Arab Emirates is unique in that many of its residents hail from other countries. An estimated 89 percent of the population of the U.A.E. are not citizens of the country.
According to St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Abu Dhabi, there are more than two million Catholics in the Arabian Peninsula with about 100 priests and 80 religious sisters.