Francis will be the first pope to visit the Arabian Peninsula on his Feb. 3-5 visit to Abu Dhabi, the capital of UAE.
During his trip, the pontiff will meet with the international Muslim Council of Elders, participate in an interreligious meeting and celebrate Mass for the local Catholic population, mainly foreign workers.
Archbishop Felix Anthony Machado of Vasai, India, who served as the Under-Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue at the Vatican from 1999-2008, and will be in Abu Dhabi for the pope’s visit, said, “This group of the World Muslim Elders Council has prepared the Pope’s visit and they would like that the leaders of all religions sit and reflect on how there could be peace among religions and reflect that peace in the world at large.”
“Such an initiative has come from Sunni Muslims whose leader is the Grand Imam of Al Azaar Mosque in Cairo, Egypt. He will be leading this interreligious group and seek the pope’s support and counsel; because Pope Francis himself is personally committed to building peace in society and the world,” the archbishop continued.
Machado said there were “conservative and politicized voices” critical of the pope for making a trip to an area without a native Catholic population.
“It is not just where Catholics are that the Church must go. We must go to such places where there are no Catholics, precisely to explore the possibilities for the future,” he said, according to cruxnow.com. “Pope Francis is the one who said that the Church must not be self-centered but must look outside of herself. That is what he is doing.”