First papal Mass in Arabia
Pope Francis' trip to the United Arab Emirates Feb. 3-5 will be the first papal trip to the Arabian peninsula. The focus of the pope's two-day visit will be interreligious dialogue, particularly with Islam. However, the papal Mass will also make history as the first public outdoor Mass on the peninsula, where each country has restrictions on the freedom of worship.
Pope Francis said that he hopes his trip to Abu Dhabi will be "a new page in the history of the relations between the religions" in the region. During the journey Francis will meet the Great Imam of al-Azhar for the fifth time and will also visit the great mosque of Abu Dhabi.
The UAE trip continues Pope Francis' emphasis on a culture of encounter and interreligious dialogue. Pope Francis previously visited Egypt in 2017 and plans also to visit Morocco March 30-31.
History still to be made
The Middle Eastern countries of Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, Kuwait, Qatar, and Bahrain have yet to receive a papal visit.
On the way to World Youth Day in January, Pope Francis expressed his desire to visit Iraq, but noted that the local bishops have made it clear the country is not yet secure enough for a papal visit.
In Bahrain, construction is underway for the biggest Catholic cathedral in the region, due to be completed in January 2021. The mother church of the Vicariate Apostolic of Northern Arabia will be the first consecrated under the title Our Lady of Arabia.