Religious freedom on the agenda as pope leads largest-ever Christian gathering in the heart of Islam.
Pope Francis must love creating cognitive dissonance.
This week, he became the first Catholic pontiff to ever visit the Arabian Peninsula, the heart of Islam, where conversion to Christianity is illegal. Francis lauded his hosts in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), saying they “strive to be a model for coexistence.”
The mere existence of a Christian community to visit in the Gulf states may surprise many. In 2015, CT visited the Emirates and reported on its “thriving” church, populated by more than a million Christians—primarily economic migrants from Asian nations such as Indonesia and the Philippines.
And in a region where the Vatican cited a decline of Christians from 20 percent to 4 percent of the Middle East population in the last 100 years, the Emirati government provided a day off and 1,000 buses to bring Catholics to mass.
Attendance reached 135,000, billed as the largest Christian gathering ever held in the Arabian Peninsula.
If the pope does enjoy sparking controversy, he succeeded also among local evangelical leaders.
“The mass was amazing. I never believed I would witness anything like that in the UAE,” said Jim Burgess, pastor of Fellowship Church and member of the Gulf Churches Fellowship, where …