By NICOLE WINFIELD
VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis plans to visit the United Arab Emirates in February to make a strong push for Christian-Muslim dialogue and peace in the region, the Vatican said Thursday.
The Feb. 3-5 trip to Abu Dhabi centers around an interfaith meeting. Francis, though, will also have the chance to meet with the region’s leadership as well as the UAE’s Catholic community, which is unique in that it is made up almost exclusively of foreign workers.
It’s the latest trip to be announced in what is shaping up as one of Francis’ busiest years for foreign travel, with trips to Central America, North Africa and now the Gulf confirmed, and ones to Asia and East Africa under consideration.
The theme of the UAE trip is peace, with the logo featuring a dove carrying an olive branch, suggesting Francis will be making a strong appeal for Christian-Muslim dialogue and peace in the region.
Vatican spokesman Greg Burke noted that the trip, like one last year to Egypt, shows the importance Francis places on inter-religious dialogue.
“Pope Francis visiting the Arab world is a perfect example of the culture of encounter,” Burke said in a statement.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai and the UAE’s Vice President and prime minister, welcomed news of the pope’s visit.
The visit “will strengthen our ties and understanding of each other, enhance interfaith dialogue and help us to work together to maintain and build peace among the nations of the world,” he tweeted.
Francis, who turns 82 this month, will make the trip just a week after returning home from Panama, where he is due to visit Jan. 22-27 to participate in the Catholic Church’s World Youth Day rally.
In March, Francis is due to travel to Morocco, while a 2019 trip to Japan is also under consideration. In addition the cardinal from Madagascar has said Francis is expected to visit next year.
AP writer Jon Gambrell in Dubai contributed.