Pope to visit United Arab Emirates in February

Pope Francis, seen here at the Vatican, has already visited several Muslim countries, including Turkey, Azerbaijan and Egypt

Pope Francis, who has made boosting ties between Christianity and Islam a cornerstone of his papacy, will visit Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates in February, the Vatican said Thursday. 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. Francis will take part in an international "interfaith" meeting during the trip, which will run from February 3 to 5. The 81-year old has already visited several Muslim countries, including Turkey in 2014, Azerbaijan in 2016 and Egypt in 2017. The Vatican said the theme for the Abu Dhabi trip was summed up in the phrase "make me a channel of your peace" -- a quote from Saint Francis of Assisi, the pope's namesake. The hope was the visit would "spread in a special way the peace of God within the hearts of all people of good will," it said. "This visit, like the one to Egypt, shows the fundamental importance the Holy Father gives to inter-religious dialogue," spokesman Greg Burke said. "Pope Francis visiting the Arab world is a perfect example of the culture of encounter," he added. The UAE prides itself on its religious tolerance and cultural diversity, and most Gulf Arab states have long allowed Christians to worship in churches. Nearly 80 percent of the population of the UAE is Muslim, while Christians constitute around nine percent, according to the Catholic News Agency. Many of the Catholics are workers from Africa, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and the Philippines, though some are locals. The UAE trip will come head of a visit in March to Morocco. Pope Francis moved quickly after his election in 2013 to make overtures to Jews and Muslims, inviting two old friends from Buenos Aires -- a rabbi and a Muslim professor -- on a trip to the Middle East where he condemned religious hatred.