Pope Francis arrived in Abu Dhabi the evening of February 3, 2018, to begin his historic visit to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) through February 5.
Pope Francis is the first pontiff to visit the United Arab Emirates (UAE). According to a December 6, 2018, Vatican statement, the visit comes in response to the invitation of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, and the Catholic Church in the United Arab Emirates. The Holy Father will participate in the International Interfaith Meeting on “Human Fraternity”.
Speaking to Zenit correspondent Deborah Castellano Lubov, accompanied the Holy Father to the United Arab Emirates on the Papal Flight, in an exclusive interview, Apostolic Vicar of Southern Arabia, Bishop Paul Hinder explained the significance of such a historical event, for the local Catholic communities, the multi-ethnic composition of these, the challenge of living the Christian faith in Islamic countries. “We know that through dialogue much can be achieved, and the Pope is a true ambassador of peace,” he said.
Pope Francis received the Crown Prince at the Vatican on September 15, 2016. The office of Prince Mohamed bin Zayed said, in tweets published after the audience, that the UAE “values Pope Francis’s efforts to confront violence and extremism,” and said he and the Pope discussed “enhancing bilateral ties, and issues of common interest.”
The theme of the February visit is “Make Me a Channel of Your Peace” – and that’s the Pope’s intention in going to the United Arab Emirates, according to Greg Burke, director of the Vatican Press Office.
“How all people of goodwill can work for peace will be a major topic on this trip,” Burke said. “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.”
Although the UAE is a majority-Muslim country, about 10 percent of the population is Catholic, many of those faithful being foreign workers from Catholic nations such as the Philippines.
The Apostolic Nuncio to the United Arab Emirates, Archbishop Francisco Montecillo Padilla, boarded the papal plane upon landing to welcome the Pope as he arrived in the United Arab Emirates for his Apostolic Visit, reported Vatican News.
Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan greeted the Pope as he stepped off the plane and onto Emirati soil.
As they entered the airport, children in traditional garb presented the Holy Father with a bouquet of flowers and welcomed him to the UAE in his native Spanish.
Pope Francis then greeted his old friend and ally in his quest to strengthen dialogue between East and West, the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, Ahmed el-Tayeb.