Pope visits Bahrain for interfaith talks over the weekend

The Argentine Christian figure has made outreach to Muslim communities a priority during his papacy, having visited a number of them over the years



Photo: Reuters
Photo: Reuters

By AFP

Published: Thu 3 Nov 2022, 10:00 AM

On Thursday, Pope Francis — leader of the world's 1.3 billion Catholics — flies to the Gulf state of Bahrain to foster ties with Islam.

The second voyage by a pope to the Arabian Peninsula after Francis' 2019 trip to the UAE is similarly aimed at encouraging interfaith dialogue between Muslims and Christians, and will include the pontiff leading a prayer for peace at a vast modern cathedral opened last year.

Francis' voyage lasts through Sunday, as international rights groups urge him to speak out against alleged issues of concern here.

The 85-year-old Francis, who will likely be (mostly) confined to a wheelchair due to recurring knee pain, is scheduled to arrive at 4.45pm local time (13.45 GMT) and conduct a "courtesy visit" with King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, following a welcoming ceremony.

He will then give a speech to authorities, diplomats and members of civil society, according to his official schedule.

On Friday, Francis will address the 'Bahrain Dialogue Forum: East and West for Human Coexistence', organised by the UAE-based Muslim Council of Elders, followed by a private meeting with Sheikh Ahmed Al Tayeb, Grand Imam of the prestigious Cairo-based Al Azhar.

The two religious leaders had signed a joint document pledging interfaith co-existence during Francis' UAE trip in 2019.

The Argentine pope has made outreach to Muslim communities a priority during his papacy, visiting major Muslim countries such as Egypt, Turkey and Iraq, and most recently Kazakhstan (in September).

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".

Friday's "prayer for peace" will be held at the cavernous Our Lady of Arabia Cathedral in Awali, which seats over 2,000 people and was opened in December. It was built to serve Bahrain's approximately 80,000 Catholics — mainly from southern Asia — including India and the Philippines.

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On Saturday, Francis will lead a 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, and Bishop Paul Hinder, the apostolic administrator for the vicariate of Northern Arabia, as per Vatican News.

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


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