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The New Arab

Pope Francis to hold historic first mass in UAE

Pope Francis greets crowds in Vatican City [Getty]

Date of publication: 18 December, 2018

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Pope Francis will become the first Catholic Pope to visit the Arabian Peninsula - but the UAE has not always been tolerant of religions other than Islam.
Pope Francis will deliver mass for the first time ever in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in February, in doing so also becoming the first Catholic Pope to visit the Arabian Peninsula, the Emirati state news agency WAM announced on Tuesday.

The Emirati Minister of Tolerance Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan said of the Pope's visit: "We are proud to welcome him as a friend, as an advocate for global peace and dialogue and as a representative of a great world religion." 

"The visit of Pope Francis to the United Arab Emirates will reinforce the peace with which we have been blessed," he added.

Some 100,000 people are expected to attend the mass, held in 
Abu Dhabi on 5 February 2019.

There are around 1 million Christians, the majority of them Catholic, living in the Emirates according to Sheikh Nahyan. All of them are thought to be migrant workers as the UAE has no indigenous Christians, according to its population data.

Read more: 'All I want is justice': Torture survivor seeks reparation over abuses in UAE

Around 85 percent of people living in the UAE are foreign workers, including half a million from the Phillipines, a deeply Catholic country.
 
The Abu Dhabi crown prince visited the Vatican in 2016, after establishing the Ministry of Tolerance in 2015.

Speaking of the Pope's visit, Sheikh Nahyan added: "We know that his visit will inspire us to redouble our efforts to nurture tolerance in the UAE and to avail our country of the opportunities created by the spirit of tolerance."

Christians are generally well treated in the UAE in relation to its Gulf neighbours. In Saudi Arabia, religions other than Islam may not be openly practiced and items belonging to other religions are banned.

However, apostasy - converting from Islam to another religion or atheism - is still punishable by death, as is blasphemy.

In 2016, Emirati authorities arrested and deported three people accused of "preaching a religion other than Islam" in Sharjah.

The two main internet services providers in the country are also forced by the government to block any content or websites critical of Islam or dedicated to other religions.

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