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Pope to make historic visit to United Arab Emirates

VATICAN (CNS): statement Pope Francis will visit the United Arab Emirates next year, becoming the first pope to visit the Arabian Peninsula, the Vatican announced on December 6.
The statement said the pope will “participate in the International Interfaith Meeting on ‘Human Fraternity’” after receiving an invitation by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, crown prince of Abu Dhabi.
“The visit will take place also in response to the invitation of the Catholic Church in the United Arab Emirates,” the Vatican said.
The trip will take place from February 3 to 5, less than a week after Pope Francis returns from his January 23to 28 visit to Panama for World Youth Day.
Shortly after the announcement, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, vice president and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, welcomed the announcement of the pope’s visit in a post on his personal Facebook page.
He said the visit “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.”
In a message published on the visit’s official website, Bishop Paul Hinder of Swtzerland, apostolic vicar of Southern Arabia, expressed his hope that the pope’s “short visit will be a moment of deepening our faith and our adherence to the bishop of Rome.”
Although a detailed programme of the pope’s schedule “will be published before Christmas,” Bishop Hinder confirmed that Pope Francis will celebrate a public Mass in Abu Dhabi on February 5 and that arrangements are being made to allow as many faithful as possible “to participate in this historic event.”
He said, “Let us keep in mind that it will be the first visit of a pope to the Arabian Peninsula.” 
The Vatican also released the logo and the theme of the papal visit, Make me a channel of your peace, inspired by St. Francis of Assisi’s prayer for peace.
The Vatican statement said the theme “expresses our own prayer that the visit of Pope Francis to the United Arab Emirates may spread in a special way the peace of God within the hearts of all people of goodwill.”
Greg Burke, Vatican spokesperson, said the theme was also a fitting description of the purpose of the pope’s visit, which will focus on “how all people of goodwill can work for peace.”
Burke said, “This visit, like the one to Egypt, shows the fundamental importance the Holy Father gives to interreligious dialogue. Pope Francis visiting the Arab world is a perfect example of the culture of encounter.”
Gabriel Said Reynolds, professor of Islamic studies and theology at Notre Dame University, in the United States, said the trip is a sign of Pope Francis’ “profound personal commitment to interreligious dialogue.”
He said the trip also “shows his appreciation for the increasing openness there to the religious freedom of non-Muslims, as witnessed by the presence of two Catholic churches in the Emirate.”
Reynolds said the visit could “also raise the visibility of the problematic situation for religious freedom in neighbouring Saudi Arabia.”

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