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Pope Francis to visit Abu Dhabi in February

Pope Francis exchanges gifts with Mohammed bin Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan, crown prince of Abu Dhabi and deputy supreme commander of the United Arab Emirates armed forces, in 2016 (Photo: CNS)

Francis will be the first pope to set foot on the Arabian peninsula

Pope Francis will become the first pontiff to visit the Arabian peninsula next year.

The Pope will visit Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), from February 3 to 5 and will take part in an interfaith meeting there.

The Vatican press office said the trip had been at the invitation of the Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, as well as the Catholic Church in the country.

The UAE is home to increasing numbers of Catholics from the Philippines and other south Asian countries, often working in poor conditions. Nine per cent of its 6.1 million population is said to be Christian.

Because there are few churches, the country’s parishes are thought to be the largest in the world. Two churches in Abu Dhabi and two in Dubai serve hundreds of thousands of faithful between them.

Across the border in Saudi Arabia, Catholics are not allowed to practise their faith openly. Masses have to be held in secret or in embassies or other diplomatic residences.