The Vatican has announced that Pope Francis will visit Abu Dhabi in February 2019, the first visit by any pope in history to the Arabian Peninsula.
“In response to the invitation of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, His Holiness Pope Francis will visit Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates) from 3 to 5 February 2019, to participate in the International Interfaith Meeting on ‘Human Fraternity,’” declared papal spokesman Greg Burke in a statement Thursday.
“The visit will take place also in response to the invitation of the Catholic Church in the United Arab Emirates,” Burke said.
State authorities of the United Arab Emirates have reportedly agreed that some of the pope’s liturgical celebrations will be held “in a public place,” a rare occasion usually not permitted on the Arabian Peninsula. Ordinarily, Christian religious activities are only allowed within churches.
The theme of the visit comes from a prayer attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi: “Make me an instrument of your peace.”
Jorge Bergoglio was the first pope to choose the name of Francis, after the 13th-century Italian saint known for his particular devotion to the virtue of poverty as well as his association with peace.
The pope’s trip to Abu Dhabi will fall shortly before his journey to Morocco, scheduled for March 30-31. The papal visits to Morocco and the United Arab Emirates both will fall in the year when the Church recalls eight centuries since the meeting between Saint Francis and the Sultan Malik al-Kamil, which took place in Damietta in Egypt in 1219.
The logo of the upcoming papal visit will be a dove with an olive branch, recalling the symbol of the end of the great flood and a universal icon of peace. The white and yellow dove has been designed to evoke the colors of the Vatican flag.
In 2018, Pope Francis visited the Islamic University of al Azhar, in Cairo, during which he spoke at an inter-religious event organized by an institution, similar to the one being prepared for the upcoming trip.
Bishop Paul Hinder, the current apostolic vicar for Southern Arabia, expressed his hope that this visit will represent “an important step in the dialogue between Muslims and Christians and contribute to mutual understanding and the building of peace in the Middle East.”
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