Pope aims to foster dialogue between Christians and Muslims during Bahrain visit

Francis to meet King of Bahrain, address forum, hold open-air mass and lead prayer for peace

Pope Francis  is escorted by Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa (C-R) as he leaves the Royal Palace in the capital Manama on November 3. – AFP
Pope Francis is escorted by Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa (C-R) as he leaves the Royal Palace in the capital Manama on November 3. – AFP


Published: Thu 3 Nov 2022, 8:31 PM

Pope Francis, leader of the world's 1.3 billion Catholics, on Thursday began a trip to Bahrain aimed at fostering dialogue between Christians and Muslims.

The first papal visit to the island nation is this pontiff's second voyage as pope to the Arabian peninsula, after a 2019 trip to the UAE also aimed at inter-faith outreach.

The pope, 85, who is using a wheelchair due to knee problems, used an electronic platform to board the plane and broke with his usual practice of greeting journalists on arrival.

Uniformed guards on horseback and Vatican and Bahrain flags lined the route of his short journey to the lavish Sakhir Royal Palace, where he was greeted by a crowd of cheering children.

During his trip, which lasts until Sunday, he will meet the King of Bahrain, hold an open-air mass and lead a prayer for peace at a vast modern cathedral opened last year.

In the days before his visit, international rights groups urged him to speak out against alleged abuses.

Francis is set to conduct a "courtesy visit" with King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa following a welcoming ceremony, and then give a speech to authorities, diplomats and members of civil society.

On Friday, Francis will address the "Bahrain Dialogue Forum: East and West for Human Coexistence", organised by the UAE-based Muslim Council of Elders.

Banner of dialogue

Afterwards, he will hold a private meeting with Sheikh Ahmed Al Tayeb, Grand Imam of the prestigious Cairo-based Al Azhar.

The two religious leaders signed a joint document pledging interfaith coexistence during Francis' UAE trip in 2019.

On Tuesday, Francis asked the faithful assembled on Saint Peter's Square to pray for his upcoming trip, calling it "a journey under the banner of dialogue".

Prayer for peace

Friday's "prayer for peace" will be held at the cavernous Our Lady of Arabia Cathedral in Awali, which seats more than 2,000 people and opened in December.

It was built to serve Bahrain's approximately 80,000 Catholics, mainly workers from southern Asia, including India and the Philippines.

On Saturday, Francis will lead mass at Bahrain's national stadium before a crowd of nearly 30,000 people, where workers on Wednesday were adding finishing touches, including a giant gold cross above Francis' chair.

About 2,000 spots will be saved for Catholics arriving from Saudi Arabia, Bishop Paul Hinder, the apostolic administrator for the vicariate of Northern Arabia, told Vatican News.

Francis will preside over a prayer meeting with Catholic clergy and others on Sunday before returning to Rome.

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