Four days in Bahrain – papal visit highlights


The Pope’s 39th Apostolic Journey was to Bahrain last week.  It was his first visit to Bahrain and second to the Gulf.

He was aiming to further solidify his outreach to the Muslim community and to offer support to Bahrain’s small Christian minority.

Pope Francis and the King

Francis’s first official engagement was a courtesy visit to King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa at the Sakhir Royal Palace. There he was welcomed in an official ceremony.

Human Rights

Human rights and Bahrain’s constitution were particular issues Francis raised with the King.

He cited the Bahraini constitution and urged “equal dignity and equal opportunities… for each group and for every individual”. (In Bahrain Shias have fewer rights than Sunnis.)

This is “so that fundamental human rights are not violated but promoted”, he said.

Religious freedom must be “complete and not limited to freedom of worship.

“I am thinking in particular of the right to life, of the need to always guarantee it, even with regard to those who are punished.”

At present, 26 people are on death row in Bahrain. The only thing standing between them and their execution is the king’s approval.

Francis also called for “humane working conditions” and condemned forced labour in neighbouring Qatar, where the World Cup will begin later this month.

“Men and women” must never be “reduced instead to a mere means of producing wealth,” Francis said.

Joining forces for peace

Peace can be achieved only by moving beyond past conflicts, he said.

Instead, we need to join forces to promote the common good, Francis explained when he met Bahrain’s Muslim Council of Elders on Friday.

This means getting to know one another, putting “a future of fraternity ahead of a past of antagonism … the name of the One who is the source of peace.”

The great religious traditions “must be the heart that unites the members of the body, the soul that gives hope and life to its highest aspirations.”

Prior to the meeting, Francis delivered one of three keynote speeches at the closing session of “Bahrain Forum for Dialogue: East and West for Human Coexistence”.

About 200 figures, leaders and religious representatives from around the world took part in the event.

Among them was was Grand Imam of Al-Azhar in Egypt, Ahmed Al-Tayeb.

Like Francis, the Imam delivered a keynote speech. The other was delivered by King Hamad, who was the forum patron.

Francis called on interfaith leaders to be “exemplary models of what we preach, not only in our communities and in our homes – for this is no longer enough – but also before a world now unified and globalised.”

As members of the Abrahamic faiths, they must look outside themselves and “speak to the entire human community, to all who dwell on this earth”.

Unity in diversity

An ecumenical prayer meeting for peace at Our Lady of Arabia Cathedral was also on Francis’s agenda.

Striving for “unity in diversity” will help the Christian community as a whole achieve peace, he told the Christian leaders at the meeting.


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