A large crowd of Christians packed Bahrain's sports stadium on Saturday for Pope Francis' big Mass, as the Pope focused his four-day visit on ministering to the Catholic community in the overwhelmingly Muslim region. With prayers in Malay, Tagalog, and Tamil and English translations of the pope's native Spanish homily, the English-language liturgy clearly targeted South Asian migrants who make up the bulk of the Gulf's Catholics.
Grand Imam of al-Azhar Ahmed El-Tayeb, Pope Francis, and Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa leave the Bahrain Forum for Dialogue: East and West for Human Coexistence, at Al-Fida Square at the Sakhir Royal Palace in Bahrain, Friday, Nov. 4, 2022. (AP)
The yellow and white flags of the Holy See were waved by pilgrims wearing identical white caps as Francis looped around Bahrain National Stadium in his popemobile before Mass. He kissed a young girl in a bubble-gum pink dress who was brought to the vehicle to great cheers. Local organizers estimated that 30,000 people attended the service, according to the Vatican. Passes to the event were snapped up within two days of becoming available, with pilgrims coming from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and other Gulf countries. "This is actually one of the biggest honors of my life," said Bijoy Joseph, an Indian living in Saudi Arabia. “This is like a blessing for us to be part of our Holy Father’s papal Mass in Bahrain.”
On Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022, Pope Francis will celebrate Mass at the Bahrain National Stadium in Riffa, Bahrain. Part of Pope Francis' efforts to pursue dialogue with the Muslim world, he will attend a government-sponsored conference on East-West dialogue and minister to Bahrain's tiny Catholic community, November 3-6.
The Pope is making his first visit to the island kingdom off the coast of Saudi Arabia, which is the size of New York City. Our primary goal was to participate in an interfaith conference sponsored by the government to promote Catholic-Muslim dialogue. For the final two days, he shifted gears to minister to the Catholic community, a minority of around 1.5 million people. Bahrain's construction, oil extraction, and domestic service industries employ a large number of workers from India, Pakistan, the Philippines, and other South Asian countries. As part of his homily, Francis encouraged them to do good and turn the other cheek, "even when evil is done to us."
In order to follow the Prince of Peace, we must always strive for peace, even when there are conflicts and oppositional viewpoints. When a harsh word is followed by an even harsher one, peace cannot be restored," he said. Sebastian Fernandez, an Indian living in Bahrain, said he was blessed to be able to attend the event since disarming is necessary to shatter the chains of evil, to break the spiral of violence, and to end resentment, complaints, and self-pity. “It will be a fruitful Mass and we are happy to see our pope,” he said.
A short time after the Mass, Francis met with young people at the Sacred Heart school, which dates back to the 1940s and is affiliated with the church of the same name, which was the first Catholic church built in the Gulf. Francis wrapped up his visit Sunday meeting with priests and nuns at the church. With Russia’s war in Ukraine raging, Pope Francis joined Muslim, Christian and Jewish leaders on Friday in calling for the great religions to work together for peace, telling an interfaith summit that religion must never be used to justify violence and that faith leaders must oppose the “childlike” whims of the powerful to make war.
His second day in Bahrain began with an East-West dialogue conference hosted by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and ended with a meeting with Muslim leaders at the mosque. It was his second such conference in as many months, following one in Kazakhstan, evidence of Francis’ core belief that moments of encounter among people of different faiths can help heal today’s conflicts and promote a more just and sustainable world.
Leading Muslim imams, the spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians, and U.S. rabbis who have long engaged in interfaith dialogue sat around him on the Sakhir royal palace grounds. Speaker after speaker called for an end to Russia’s war in Ukraine and the start of peace negotiations. Orthodox Russia has strongly supported the Kremlin in its war and justified it on religious grounds, sending an envoy to the conference. Francis told the gathering that, while the world seems to be heading apart like two opposing seas, the mere presence of religious leaders together was evidence that they “intend to set sail on the same waters, choosing the route of encounter rather than that of confrontation.”
The paradox is that, despite being united in facing the same difficulties, most of the world's population suffers from grave food, ecological, and pandemic problems. In Bahrain, Francis closed out a conference sponsored by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa on East-West dialogue and met separately with Muslim leaders at the royal mosque on his second day. His second such conference in as many months, following one in Kazakhstan, demonstrates Francis' core belief that moments of encounter among people of different faiths can help heal today's conflicts and promote a more just and sustainable world. In the Sakhir royal palace grounds, he was surrounded by leading Muslim imams, the spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians, and U.S. rabbis who have long engaged in interfaith dialogue. The speakers called for an end to Russia's war in Ukraine and the beginning of peace negotiations.
An envoy from the Russian Orthodox Church attended the conference and strongly supported the Kremlin in its war. Francis told the gathering that, while the world seems to be heading apart like two opposing seas, the mere presence of religious leaders together was evidence that they “intend to set sail on the same waters, choosing the route of encounter rather than that of confrontation.” “It is a striking paradox that, while the majority of the world’s population is united in facing the same difficulties, suffering from grave food, ecological and pandemic crises, as well as an increasingly scandalous global injustice, a few potentates are caught up in a resolute struggle for partisan interests,” he said.