DUBAI — Pope Francis marked the first-ever visit by a head of the Catholic Church to the Arabian Peninsula, beginning a three-day tour of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) meant to celebrate tolerance and promote interfaith dialogue.
Francis was greeted by Abu Dhabi's Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan on Sunday, and will deliver a mass to 135,000 worshippers at the emirate's Zayed Sports City Stadium on Tuesday morning.
The mass, officials and many locals say, highlights the religious openness in the UAE — an officially Muslim country that implements Islamic law — particularly compared to its more conservative Gulf neighbors. A number of mosques, churches and Hindu temples serve the country's diverse and predominantly non-local population, and more recently a house-turned-synagogue has been recognized by Emirati authorities. The UAE's first catholic church was built in Abu Dhabi in 1965. Neighboring Saudi Arabia, by contrast, does not allow churches to be built anywhere in the country.