In a recent interview with the Italian broadcast network TV2000, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin said Christian/Muslim relations has been a priority for Francis since the beginning of his papacy and it will continue to be a priority in 2019, seen mostly through trips the Pope is taking to Islamic countries.

A flashback to the Pope’s inter-faith journeys; his first international trip after being elected to the papacy in 2013 was a May 2014 visit to the Holy Land. Since then, dialogue with Islam has continued to be a strong emphasis for the pope in his travels, including a visit to Turkey in November 2014, to the Central African Republic in 2015 and to Egypt in the spring of 2017, all of which have a Muslim majority.

On 3-5 February, Pope Francis becomes the first Pope to visit the United Arab Emirates. The Journey’s central theme surrounds interreligious dialogue and solidarity amongst members of different faiths. The leaders of the UAE declared 2019 as a “Year of Tolerance” with the goal of promoting a culture free of religious fundamentalism.

“The Pope’s attention toward the Arab world is due to the difficulties which today are found in relations between Christianity and Islam, with the tragic drifts of terrorism and religious fundamentalism,” Parolin said in the interview.

“Faced with this situation the Pope from the beginning of his pontificate has sought to promote encounter,” he said, adding that Francis is in many ways “characterized by this desire to promote encounter against every indifference. This is the meaning of the attention he will be giving this year through his trips to the Arab world.”

On 30-31 March, Pope Francis travels to Morocco, 33 years after Pope St. John Paul II’s historic visit on 19 August 1985 to Casablanca. The Pope will continue in his predecessor’s path of promoting mutual comprehension and interreligious dialogue between Christians and Muslims.

ACN Malta