Pope Francis Tells Catholics on the Arabian Peninsula to be Bold in Proclaiming the Gospel

Pope Francis met with Catholic priests, religious, and lay people on the last day of his historic visit to Bahrain, an overwhelmingly Muslim country.

(photo: Vatican Media. / VM)

In Bahrain on Sunday morning, Pope Francis prayed with Catholics from the Arabian Peninsula and encouraged them to be bold in proclaiming the Gospel in their countries.

“All who are baptized have received the Spirit and so become prophets. As such, we cannot pretend not to see the works of evil, so as to live a ‘quiet life’ and not get our hands dirty,” he said Nov. 6 in Sacred Heart Church in Manama.

“How is it possible for a Christian who wants to live his faith not to get his or her hands dirty?” the Pope reiterated. “On the contrary, we received a Spirit of prophecy to proclaim the Gospel by our living witness.”

Pope Francis met with Catholic priests, religious, and lay people on the last day of his historic visit to Bahrain, an overwhelmingly Muslim country.

His Nov. 3-6 trip included encounters with authorities, Muslim leaders, and the small Catholic community, including a Mass with around 30,000 people in Bahrain’s national soccer stadium — the first-ever public papal Mass in the country.

Sunday’s prayer service, which concluded with the Marian prayer known as the Angelus, was attended by an estimated 600 Catholics engaged in ministry in the Arabian countries of Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Qatar. In his speech, the pope noted that there was also a contingency from Lebanon.

In his welcoming remarks, the apostolic administrator of northern Arabia, Bishop Paul Hinder, said the people in attendance reflected “the cultural and ethnic diversity of the migrant Church in this part of the world.”

“Many of them are struggling daily but do so with deep faith, trusting that we are all in the hands of our Heavenly Father,” the bishop said, noting that the Apostolic Vicariate of Northern Arabia has 60 priests and an estimated 2 million Catholics.

He said there are also around 1,300 lay catechists teaching more than 16,000 children.

“All of them work as volunteers, sometimes under very difficult conditions because of the restrictions in some countries regarding religious freedom, work permits and residency permits,” he said.

In his reflection during the prayer service, Pope Francis recalled the words of Jesus in John 7:37-38: “Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as scripture says: ‘Rivers of living water will flow from within him.’”

These words “made me think about this very land,” the Pope said. “While it is true that there is a large expanse of desert, there are springs of fresh water flowing underground that irrigate it.”

“That is a beautiful image of who you are and, above all, of how faith operates in our lives; on the surface our humanity seems parched by any number of weaknesses, fears, challenges and personal or social problems of various types,” he said.

“Yet, in the depths of the soul, in the intimacy of the heart, there flows the calm and silent fresh water of the Spirit, who refreshes our deserts and restores life to what is parched, who washes away all that soils us and quenches our thirst for happiness.”

Christians are a small minority in Bahrain, an island country in the Persian Gulf. More than 70% of the total population — 1.5 million — is Muslim, while there are only about 161,000 Catholics living in the country, according to 2020 Vatican statistics.

Sacred Heart Church was built in 1939 on land donated by Bahrain’s ruler, Sheikh Haman bin Isa Al Khalifa. It was the first Catholic Church built in the Persian Gulf, and is located in Manama, Bahrain’s capital and largest city, which has a population of around 200,000.

During the week, the church offers Mass in English, French, Malayalam, Tamil, Arabic, Filipino, Urdu, Sri Lankan, Spanish, Bengali, and Konkani. There are 10 Masses offered on Friday and about eight Masses offered every Sunday.

Pope Francis led Sunday’s prayer service in English, while his address was delivered in Italian with live English translation.

In his speech, Francis encouraged those who have discovered the joy of knowing and loving Christ not to keep it to themselves, but to work to help it grow.

This joy, he said, is “born of a relationship with God, from knowing that despite the struggles and dark nights that we sometimes endure, we are not alone, lost or defeated, because he is with us. With God, we can face and overcome everything, even the abyss of pain and death.”

The Pope explained that the best way to help joy grow is “by giving it away.”

“Yes, Christian joy is naturally contagious, since the Gospel makes us go beyond ourselves to share the beauty of God’s love,” he said.

“It is essential, therefore, that this joy not be dimmed or left unshared in Christian communities,” he added, “that we do not restrict ourselves to doing things by force of habit, without enthusiasm or creativity.”

Pope Francis said it is Jesus Christ who unifies and “inaugurates the one language of love, so that different human languages no longer remain distant and incomprehensible.”

“He breaks down the barriers of distrust and hate, in order to create space for acceptance and dialogue. He frees us from fear and instills the courage to go out and meet others with the unarmed and disarming force of mercy,” he said.