Rome Newsroom, November 5, 2022 / 05:00 (CNA).
About 30,000 people crammed into a football stadium on Saturday morning to attend the first public papal mass in the Kingdom of Bahrain, a Muslim-majority island nation in the Persian Gulf.
In the crowd was Julius Rhe, who traveled with his wife and son from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where restrictions prohibit the celebration of Catholic masses in public.
“We are very honored to be part of this very, very memorable event. . . . We are very lucky,” Rhe told EWTN on November 5.
The Rhe family practice the Catholic faith at home and attended a private mass in an apartment while living in Saudi Arabia.
According to Bahrain’s Daily Tribune, around 2,900 of the attendees registered for the stadium mass with Pope Francis were from neighboring Saudi Arabia.
Reuters reported that foreign workers living in Saudi Arabia were bussed for Mass on King Fahd Causeway which connects the two countries.
Many foreign workers in the Gulf region come from the Philippines, India, Pakistan and other South Asian countries.
Foreign Catholic workers living in Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates also traveled for Mass.
Pope Francis arrived to cheers from the Bahrain National Football Stadium as he waved to the cheering crowd from the popemobile.
In his homily, the pope repeated the words of Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good”.
Pope Francis said that Jesus “suffers when he sees nowadays and in many parts of the world, ways of exercising power that feed on oppression and violence, seeking to expand their own space by restricting that of others, imposing their own domination and restricting fundamental freedoms, and thus oppressing the weak.
In the face of the oppression and enmity that exists today, the Gospel calls on Christians to “love everyone, even our enemies,” the pope said.
Christians form a small minority in Bahrain. While more than 70% of Bahrain’s total population of 1.5 million is Muslim, there are around 161,000 Catholics living in the country, according to 2020 Vatican statistics. The country is home to two Catholic churches and 20 Catholic priests .
Pope Francis has described Bahrain as “a living image of coexistence in diversity” and “an image of our world, increasingly marked by the constant migration of peoples and by a pluralism of ideas, customs and traditions. “.
He added, “So it is important to take up Jesus’ challenge: ‘If you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even tax collectors do the same?’ »
At the end of the Mass, Bishop Paul Hinder, Apostolic Administrator of the Apostolic Vicariate of North Arabia, thanked Pope Francis for showing “pastoral care for a small Church in a small country.”
The Bishop said: “Like your patron Saint Francis of Assisi, you are not afraid to build bridges with the Muslim world and show your fraternal closeness to all people of good will, regardless of their cultural background. and their religious belief”.
“We Christians of the Middle East – those of the ancient Eastern tradition and those who, as migrants, live temporarily in this part of the world – try to implement the invitation of Saint Francis to his brothers in “to live spiritually among Muslims…not to engage in arguments and [simply] recognize that [we] are Christians.’”
Pope Francis expressed his gratitude to Catholics who had traveled from Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region to attend Mass. He said: “I bring today the affection and closeness of the universal Church, which looks at you and embraces you, which loves you and encourages you.
“May the Blessed Virgin, Our Lady of Arabia, accompany you on your way and constantly keep you in the love of all.”
Alexey Gotovsky contributed to this report.
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