.- Pope Francis is set to celebrate the first papal Mass on the Arabian peninsula next week during his Feb. 3-5 visit to Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates.
The pope’s Mass at the Zayed sports stadium on Feb. 5 is expected to draw at least 135,000 people. Many in attendance will be migrant workers from Asia residing in the UAE, a country in which 89 percent of the population are not citizens. It will not only be the first papal Mass on the peninsula, but the first public Mass in the country.
Since the Second Vatican Council there have been significant milestones in Muslim-Catholic relations in the region. Here is a look at some of the highlights:
First pope on a plane
The first time a pope ever traveled on a plane was on a trip to the Middle East. Saint Paul VI flew from Italy to Jordan in January 1964, making history as the first pope to leave Europe. Paul VI met with King Hussein in Amman before continuing his journey to Jerusalem.
First pope in a mosque
Saint John Paul II made history as the first pope to enter a mosque during his visit to Syria in May 2001. John Paul II went to Damascus’ Umayyad Mosque, which had been built in 715 on top of a fourth-century Christian cathedral said to contain the head of John the Baptist.
In March 2003, days before US President George W. Bush announced the official start of the Iraq war, St. John Paul II called for a worldwide fast for peace in the Middle East.
The Polish pontiff, known for his extensive papal travels during his 27-year pontificate, was also the first pope to visit several Middle Eastern nations, including Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, and Turkey.