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The invite: The pontiff was invited to the majority-Muslim country by both Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan and the local Catholic church. The 81-year old has already visited several Muslim countries, including Turkey, Azerbaijan and Egypt.
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The itinerary: Francis will deliver Mass in a stadium in Zayed Sports City, visit the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and preside at an inter-religious meeting at the Founder’s Memorial. He will also pay an official visit to the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince in the Presidential Palace.
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The purpose: The visit, like the one to Egypt, aims to show the importance the Pope gives to inter-religious dialogue, according to spokesman Greg Burke. “Pope Francis visiting the Arab world is a perfect example of the culture of encounter,” said Burke in a statement.
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The reason: The UAE prides itself on its religious tolerance and cultural diversity. Most Gulf Arab states have long allowed Christians to worship in churches. Nearly 80 percent of the UAE’s population is Muslim, while Christians make up nine percent.
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The Pope: Francis moved quickly after his 2013 election to make overtures to Jews and Muslims, inviting two friends from Buenos Aires, including a rabbi and a Muslim professor, on a trip to the region where he condemned religious hatred. His UAE trip is in line with the Year of Tolerance.