Pope Departs Thursday for 4-Day Apostolic Trip to Bahrain
On Tuesday, the Pope asked for prayers for his journey ‘so that every meeting and event might be a fruitful opportunity to promote, in the name of God, the cause of fraternity and peace’
VATICAN CITY — Already the first pope ever to set foot on the Arab peninsula, an increasingly immobile Pope Francis will return to the Arabian Gulf on Thursday when he becomes the first supreme pontiff to visit the Kingdom of Bahrain.
The four-day apostolic trip will be Francis’ tenth to a Muslim-majority nation and his 39th apostolic journey outside Italy.
Bahrain has a small Catholic presence of around 80,000 people, most of whom are migrant workers from Asia, out of a population of around 1.3 million.
On Wednesday, the Pope told pilgrims at his All Saints Day Angelus that it will be “a journey under the banner of dialogue,” alluding to the interreligious conference he will be attending on Friday. He added that during his trip he will “have the opportunity to engage with religious representatives, particularly Islamic.”
The conference, an initiative of Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and called the “Bahrain Forum for Dialogue: East and West for Human Coexistence,” will take place Nov. 3-4 in Awali on Bahrain Island, the largest of the kingdom’s archipelago of 50 natural islands and 33 artificial islands, and close to the capital Manama.
King Hamad’s Global Center for Peaceful Coexistence has launched several initiatives in recent years with the aim of promoting a culture of cooperation and dialogue.
At the event, Francis will join Mohammed Al Tayeb, the Grand Imam of Cairo-based Al Azhar University and chairman of the Muslim Council of Elders, as well as a number of prominent intellectual figures and religious representatives from around the world.
The conference comes nearly four years since the Pope signed the “Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together” with Al Tayeb in Abu Dhabi in 2019 — his historic first visit to the Arabian peninsula.
That document, described by the Vatican as “courageous and prophetic” and an “important step” in Catholic-Muslim relations, drew controversy for a passage that stated the “diversity of religions” is “willed by God.” Critics said the statement, which remains in the document, contradicted Jesus’ command to make disciples of all nations.
No document is expected to emanate from Friday’s meeting, but the Pope is scheduled to address the participants during the closing ceremony. This will be followed by a private meeting with Al Tayeb, an address to members of the Muslim Council of Elders, and a discourse to an ecumenical meeting and prayer for peace. That latter event will take place in Awali’s new cathedral of Our Lady of Arabia, consecrated last year. Pope will bless the cathedral, the first to be built in Bahrain.
Bishop Paul Hinder, the apostolic administrator of Northern Arabia, told Vatican News Nov. 1 that the visit is aimed at maintaining and deepening “interfaith dialogue with Muslims, not only the Sunnis, but also the Shiites and other currents within the Muslim world, and on the other side to give encouragement to the flock of Catholics and the Christians in general, but especially Catholics who live in this special situation.”
Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni told reporters last week that Bahrain “is an ancient land where different national, ethnic and religious groups coexist and therefore it is a precious step in the journey of fraternity the Pope has undertaken.”
Human rights groups have called on the Pope to publicly and privately press King Hamad to end human rights abuses while he is in the country, including commuting death sentences, prohibiting all forms of torture and ill-treatment, freeing political prisoners and journalists and ending abuses against migrant workers.
Remainder of Itinerary
After an official welcome at Bahrain’s air base in Awali shortly before 5pm local time on Thursday, the Pope will make a courtesy visit to King Hamad at Sakhir Royal Palace, a desert residence used for ceremonial events, before attending a welcome ceremony in the palace courtyard. The Pope will then meet with authorities, civil society and the diplomatic corps.
After attending the interreligious conference on Friday, on Saturday Pope Francis will celebrate Mass in Bahrain’s national stadium at which 20,000 faithful are expected, followed by a meeting with youth in Awali’s Sacred Heart School.
On Sunday, the Pope will address a prayer meeting and recite the Angelus with bishops, priests, religious, seminarians and pastoral workers in Sacred Heart Church in Manama before being driven back to the Awali air base for his flight back to Rome. He is due to arrive at Rome’s Fiumicino airport at 5pm.
As with his recent previous trips to Canada and Kazakhstan, Francis is expected to use a wheelchair to move around due to health problems.
According to his own custom before and at the end of his trips, he visited the basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome on Wednesday to ask for Our Lady’s blessing. It was Francis’ 100th visit to the basilica.
He also asked for prayers for his journey during his All Saints Day Angelus: “I ask everyone to accompany me with prayer,” he said, “so that every meeting and event might be a fruitful opportunity to promote, in the name of God, the cause of fraternity and peace, which our times so desperately and urgently need.”
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