Pope Francis in historic Arabian Peninsula visit

Pope Francis, who has made strengthening ties between Christians and Muslims a cornerstone of his papacy, is set for a historic trip to the UAE, the first ever papal visit to the Arabian Peninsula, AFP reported Friday (February 1st).

During his three-day visit, which will begin in Abu Dhabi on Sunday, the pope will take part in an interfaith conference and meet the Grand Imam of Egypt's Al-Azhar, Ahmed al-Tayeb.

There are no plans "at the moment" for a papal visit to other Gulf countries, said Bishop Paul Hinder of the Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia, which encompasses the UAE, Oman and Yemen.

But the pope's trip to the UAE is widely seen as a stepping stone to broader inter-religious dialogue in the region.

Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, who invited the pope to the UAE, on Thursday described the pontiff as "the man of peace and love".

In a video message to the Emirati people on Thursday, Pope Francis said: "I am happy ... to write on your dear land a new page in the relations between religions, confirming that we are brothers although different."

On the last day of his trip, Pope Francis will lead a mass in Abu Dhabi to be attended by more than 130,000 people. More than 2,000 buses will be transporting worshippers to Abu Dhabi, ahead of the mass.

The UAE has the largest number of Catholic churches in the region, with eight. Oman, Kuwait and Yemen each have four, while Qatar and Bahrain each have one.

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