In Bahrain, Pope Francis will bring a message of brotherhood to all of Islam

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VATICAN CITY (RNS) – Pope Francis will become the first pontiff to visit the small island country of Bahrain in the Persian Gulf on Thursday, November 3, promoting his continuing message of brotherhood, dialogue and peace with the Islam.

The four-day apostolic visitation will take place “under the sign of dialogue,” Francis said during his weekly Angelus prayer in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday. While Catholics make up a small percentage of Bahrain’s population – around 80,000 to 100,000, almost all transplants from other nations, among 1.7 million residents – the pope’s visit carries a broader message, to Muslim communities in the country, divided between the Shiites and the Sunni sects and the Islamic world.

The papal trip “is an invitation to dialogue, an invitation to the encounter between East and West, in a reality, like that of Bahrain, which is a multi-ethnic, multicultural and multi-religious reality”, said Cardinal Pietro Parolin , Vatican Secretary of State. , in an interview with Vatican Media.

Parolin explained that the pope’s visit to Bahrain is part of his message for religions to become agents of peace, enshrined in the document on human brotherhood that the pontiff signed in 2019 in Abu Dhabi with the eminent Sunni cleric. Egyptian, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar. , Ahmad al-Tayeb.

Brotherhood is the “red thread” that united Francis’ visits to Kazakhstan, Iraq, Morocco, Egypt, Azerbaijan and the Arab Emirates, Parolin said.

“This common thread is simply to say that between God and hatred, between religion and violence, there is an absolute incompatibility, there is an impossibility of any contact and any reconciliation, because whoever accepts hatred and violence distort the very nature of religion. he added.

Francis will meet Bahrain’s King Ḥamad bin ʿĪsā Āl Khalīfa, who issued an initial invitation to the pontiff, which was later formalized by the Catholic community in Bahrain. The pope will meet local authorities at the royal palace of Sakhir in Awali upon his arrival.

human rights activists called on Francis to use his platform during his visit to Bahrain to condemn unjust imprisonments and the use of the death penalty by the government, as well as to defend basic human and civil rights. While Parolin said Francis will interpret “the deep expectations of so many people who do not see their rights respected”, the cardinal also hailed Bahrain’s constitution for “avoiding discrimination”.

Human rights issues will “certainly be on the pope’s agenda”, said Bishop Paul Hinder, the apostolic administrator of North Arabia, whose oversight also includes Kuwait and Qatar. But the Pope is unlikely to openly challenge the Bahraini government on the death penalty and is more likely to take a more personal approach instead.

On Friday, the pope is likely to focus on Christian and Muslim dialogue, with Francis delivering the closing address of the Bahrain Forum for Dialogue: East and West for Human Coexistence, before meeting privately with al-Tayeb.

The pope will then meet with members of the Muslim Council of Elders, an organization that promotes tolerance and religious dialogue, and oversee an ecumenical meeting at the year-old Cathedral of Our Lady of Arabia in Awali. Francis himself donated the foundation stone for the cathedral and the meeting is seen as the crowning achievement of his ecumenical efforts in the region.

“Pope Francis will continue his efforts to accommodate, as much as possible, the different realities of the Muslim world,” Hinder said.

“The pope would like to be in contact with everyone and exclude no one,” Hinder said, stressing the importance for monotheistic religions to come together around common goals, especially in terms of the environment.

The Bishop also noted that the trip will take place under the watchful eye of Bahrain’s powerful and influential neighbors, Sunni-majority Saudi Arabia and Shia-majority Iran. “I can’t imagine this trip won’t get the attention of Riyadh and maybe even Iran,” Hinder said.

“I think the pope’s courageous steps will open doors,” he added. “We don’t know where they will lead in the end, but hopefully it will help find solutions to conflicts in the region and eventually globally.”


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Francis’ last two days will focus on encouraging the local Catholic community, which includes a global mix of Eastern and Latin rites practiced in the homelands of India, the Philippines and elsewhere.

More than 20,000 people from Middle Eastern countries are expected to attend Francis’ Mass at Bahrain’s National Stadium on Saturday. On the same day, the Pope will meet students from the Catholic School of the Sacred Heart.

On his last day in the Middle Eastern peninsula, the pope will hold his usual Sunday Angelus prayer with local bishops and priests in the northern city of Manama before hopping on the ITA Airways flight that will take him back to Rome. .

The message during the trip “is always the same,” Parolin said. “In a world characterized by tensions, contrasts, conflicts, it is a message of unity, cohesion, peace.”


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