Pope Francis makes landmark visit to UAE
February 3-5, 2019 -- Pope Francis’ visit to the United Arab Emirates marks the first ever papal visit to the Arabian Peninsula, the birthplace of Islam.
Francis, who already has made trips to about half a dozen predominantly Muslim nations, will also visit Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the largest in the country.
There are about a million Roman Catholics in the UAE, all of them expatriate workers.
As Abu Dhabi became a major oil exporter and Dubai grew into the skyscraper-studded city it is today, the Emirates' rapid economic expansion drew millions of foreigners to everything from white-collar office jobs to hard-hat construction work.
Rulers in the UAE, which has described 2019 as the nation's "Year of Tolerance," have supported the Catholic community in the past by donating land for their churches. However, there are limits in this Muslim nation.
Proselytizing by non-Muslims remains illegal and conversion from Islam to another religion is illegal. Blasphemy and apostasy laws also carry a possible death sentence.
Despite facing restrictions, Christians in the UAE have never faced the violence that has targeted those in Syria and Iraq during the rise of the Islamic State group and other militants. Coptic Christians, a minority in Egypt that has faced extremist attacks in their homeland, also can safely worship.
The theme of the visit is ‘Make Me a Channel of Your Peace’. That is taken from the opening words of the Prayer of Peace of Francis of Assisi, the saint whose name he took when elected in 2013.