Pope Francis rocks the small Catholic community in the Gulf with a great mass



AWALI, Bahrain, November 5 (Reuters) – Pope Francis said Mass for thousands of Catholics in Bahrain on Saturday, enthusing members of the small foreign Catholic community in the Gulf and urging them to show kindness to their hosts, even if they sometimes feel badly treated.

The crowd of around 30,000 that filled Bahrain’s National Stadium was the second-largest gathering for a papal mass in the Arabian Peninsula, after one that drew more than 100,000 in the United Arab Emirates in 2019.

“It’s a miracle,” said Mary Grace Fortes, 36, a Filipina who works at the front desk of a hotel in Bahrain. “So important to us.”

Like many Filipino women who work outside their country, Fortes is married and sends money home to help support her family, including her husband and 16-year-old son.

Hundreds of foreign Catholic workers have been bussed on the 25km (16 mile) King Fahd Causeway that connects Bahrain to Saudi Arabia, where there are no churches and where Catholics cannot pray openly.

“The Bahrainis arranged everything perfectly for us,” said Jos Chazoor, 53, from Kerala in India and director of a medical equipment company in Saudi Arabia.

Chazoor’s 75-year-old mother was too emotional to answer a reporter’s questions just before the pope arrived at the packed stadium to be greeted enthusiastically by worshipers waving yellow and white Vatican flags.

“She’s too thrilled to talk,” said Chazoor, who regularly drives with her mother down the causeway from Saudi Arabia to attend Mass at one of Bahrain’s two churches, which minister to some 160,000 people. Bahrain Catholics.

In his homily, Francis appeared to praise Bahrain’s relatively open policy towards non-Muslims.

“This very land is a living image of coexistence in diversity, and in fact an image of our world, increasingly marked by the constant migration of peoples and by a pluralism of ideas, customs and traditions”, did he declare.

Foreign workers, many from Asia, form the backbone of Gulf economies, working in sectors such as construction, hospitality, transportation and the oil and gas sector.

The International Labor Organization says migrant workers in the Gulf have long faced problems including exploitation by recruitment agencies and employers, poor working conditions, limited access to justice and freedom to limited or no association.

Francis urged his listeners to be kind even to the natives of the Gulf region who do not treat them well, saying it was key to the Gospel message to love your enemies.

He said they should always “persevere in good even when harm is done to us, break the spiral of revenge, disarm violence, demilitarize the heart”.

As Francis was led on an open popemobile through the crowd on the stadium grounds just before Mass began, a speaker on the altar platform shouted “God bless the pope, God bless the Royal family”.

A Bahrain government spokesman said 111 nationalities attended mass in the island state, where foreigners make up around half of Bahrain’s population of around 1.5 million.

The prayers of the faithful during Mass were read in languages ​​spoken by foreign workers, including Tagalog, Swahili, Malayalam, Tamil and Konkani.

The mass was attended by one of King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa’s sons and several government ministers.

Additional reporting by Ghaida Ghantous in Dubai; Editing by Michael Perry and Mark Potter

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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