In Bahrain, the Pope sees the joy of the Catholic minority



People wave Vatican flags as Pope Francis celebrates mass at the Bahrain National Stadium in Awali, Bahrain, November 5, 2022. (CNS Photo/Yara Nardi, Reuters)

By Carol Glatz
Catholic Press Service

AWALI, Bahrain – Traveling as a “sower of peace” to the Kingdom of Bahrain, Pope Francis further strengthened ties with the Muslim world and witnessed the joy and vitality of its minority and mostly expatriate Christian population .

His message promoting the peaceful coexistence of different cultures and ethnicities also included the wider Persian Gulf region, which is also increasingly diverse due to growing communities of migrant workers, who make up a large percentage of the population.

The 85-year-old pope’s visit to Bahrain from November 3-6 was his 39th international trip in nearly 10 years as pope and his 13th trip to a Muslim-majority country, reflecting his deep commitment to interfaith dialogue and the need to work together. to face the global challenges and moral crises of today.

The pope’s first stop in Awali on Nov. 3 was Sakhir Palace, the residence of King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and the royal family.

During a meeting with authorities, members of the diplomatic corps and local representatives at the palace, the pope said: “The many national, ethnic and religious groups that coexist in Bahrain testify that we can and must live together in our world. “.

He hailed the kingdom’s efforts to promote mutual respect, tolerance and religious freedom. However, he said more should be done to: provide equal opportunities for all groups and individuals; fight against discrimination; protect immigrant workers; guarantee human rights; and abolish the death penalty.

The following day was the busiest for the pope, whose chronic knee pain had worsened, keeping him in a wheelchair when he needed to move around and only seeing him briefly stand with a cane to to support.

Pope Francis and Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa greet each other during a farewell ceremony for the Pope at Sakhir Air Base in Awali on November 6. (CNS photo/Vatican Media via Reuters)

Pope Francis helped close the Bahrain Forum for Dialogue: East and West for Human Coexistence, an event sponsored by the king, on Nov. 4 in Al-Fida Square at the palace.

Riding in a compact white Fiat with Vatican City plates, the pope was accompanied through the leafy oasis of the palace’s walled compound by royal guards on horseback. The pope was then asked to pour water from a metal pitcher onto the base of a tall palm tree.

He told representatives of different religions and international leaders that “it is our duty to encourage and help our human family”, especially those who are neglected by the powerful: the poor, the unborn, the elderly, the infirm and migrants.

God wants his children to be “one family, not islands, but a great archipelago”, like Bahrain, the pope said. The world can only “move forward by rowing together; if we sail alone, we go adrift.

Later in the day, in the courtyard of the Palace Mosque, the Pope addressed Sheikh Ahmad el-Tayeb, Grand Imam of the Mosque and Egypt’s Al-Azhar University, and key representatives of the Muslim Council sages, an international group of Islamic scholars and experts. .

He encouraged those who strive to avoid divisions and conflicts in Muslim communities, to promote mutual respect, tolerance and moderation, and to dispel “misinterpretations which, through violence, misinterpret, exploit and harm religious belief”.

“The God of peace never causes war, never incites hatred, never supports violence,” he said. Peace is built through “meeting, patient negotiation and dialogue”, and it is based on justice.

Prayer and brotherhood ‘are our weapons,’ Pope Francis says, again condemning the global arms trade, calling it ‘the ‘trade of death’ which, through ever-increasing spending, is transforming our common home into a great arsenal”.

“Unity in diversity and witness to life” was the central theme of the pope’s speech at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Arabia, the largest cathedral in the Persian Gulf region, for an ecumenical meeting and a prayer for peace. Many local Christians and Catholics were present as well as King Al Khalifa, Ecumenical Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople and other dignitaries.

The new cathedral serves the Apostolic Vicariate of North Arabia, which includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and, officially, Saudi Arabia, and was built in response to the growing Catholic population of the Gulf region. , today estimated at 2.5 million.

The pope visited Bahrain’s National Stadium on November 5 to celebrate Mass for the more than 20,000 foreign residents working in Bahrain and thousands more from neighboring countries, altogether representing more than 100 different nationalities.

“This very land is a living image of coexistence in diversity, and indeed an image of our world,” the pope said in his homily.

He encouraged the faithful to live as “children of the Father and to build a world of brothers and sisters”. They must “learn to love everyone, even our enemies,” and find the courage to take the risk of overcoming evil with good.

That evening he went to Sacred Heart School, whose 1,215 students represent 29 different nationalities, cultures, languages ​​and religions. A choir offered Christian songs to the Pope and another group of boys and girls presented a traditional dance from Bahrain.

The pope praised their enthusiasm and openness saying: “Looking at you, who are not all of the same religion and are not afraid to be together, I think that without you this coexistence of differences would not be possible”.

On his last day, Nov. 6, in the kingdom, the pope prayed and spoke with bishops, priests, religious, seminarians and pastoral workers from the Persian Gulf region at the Church of the Sacred Heart in Manama.

Once again, he insisted on the need for Catholics in the region to be guardians and builders of unity, to reach out to dialogue with others and to live as brothers and sisters.

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