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Letter from Rome

The frequent-flier pope will soon face one of the biggest challenges of his pontificate

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Letter from Rome

Pope Francis is welcomed by Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan upon his arrival at Abu Dhabi International Airport in the UAE capital on Feb. 3. (Photo by Andrew Medichini/AFP)

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Pope Francis headed to the United Arab Emirates on Sunday, just one week after returning from a five-day visit to Panama for World Youth Day.

The Feb. 3-5 trip to the Arabian Peninsula will be the first ever by a Roman pope. And it will be the second of five foreign journeys Francis is scheduled to make in the first six months of 2019.

Already on the calendar are visits to Morocco (March 30-31), Bulgaria and Macedonia (May 5-7) and Romania (May 31-June 2). Up to four more trips abroad are being considered for later in the year.

With the exception of Panama, Catholics constitute a tiny percentage of the population in all these countries. And by visiting them, Pope Francis continues to take up the challenge he put to his fellow cardinals in the days before he was elected Bishop of Rome on March 12, 2013 — to push the Church's mission to the peripheries.

Jesus is knocking on the door to be let out

"The Church is called to come out from itself and to go to the peripheries, not only those that are geographical, but also existential: those of the mystery of sin, of suffering, of injustice; those of ignorance and of the absence of faith; those of thought; those of every form of misery," the then-archbishop of Buenos Aires said.

He then pointed to a passage in the Book of Revelation where Jesus says: "Behold, I stand at the door and knock."


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