VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Francis will say the first Mass by a pontiff on the Arabian peninsula in February and visit one of its largest mosques when he travels to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.
A program for the Feb. 3-5 trip released on Wednesday showed Francis will celebrate Mass in a stadium in Zayed Sports City on the last day of the trip.
The freedom to practice Christianity — or any religion other than Islam — is not always a given in the Gulf and varies from country to country.
In the UAE and Kuwait, Christians may worship in churches or church compounds, and in other places with special licenses.
Saudi Arabia, home to Islam’s holiest sites, bans the practice of other religions.
Organizers of the trip, the first by a pope to the Arabian peninsula, said it would be the first time Mass would be held in an outdoor, public venue in the UAE.
There are about a million Roman Catholics in the UAE, all of them expatriate workers.
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, he will hold a private meeting with the members of the Muslim Council of Elders.
Francis has visited mosques before on his trips to predominately Muslim countries, which have included Turkey, Jordan, Egypt, Bangladesh, Azerbaijan and the Palestinian territories.
He has used those trips to call for inter-religious dialogue and to condemn violence in the name of God.
Francis will also preside at an inter-religious meeting at the Founder’s Memorial, a complex commemorating the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, founding father of the UAE.
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.
Reporting By Philip Pullella; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne