Bahrain is preparing to welcome the Successor of Peter. Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, in an interview with Vatican Media, expresses his gratitude to the King of Bahrain, Ḥamad bin ʿĪsā Āl Khalīfa, and the local Church for this invitation.
By Massimiliano Menichetti
The pope will be in Bahrain from November 3 to 6. He will visit the cities of Manama and Awali, where he will participate in the “Bahrain Forum for Dialogue: East and West for Human Coexistence”. The main events include the Holy Mass at the Bahrain National Stadium and a meeting with the young people of the Sacred Heart School.
Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, in an interview with L’Osservatore Romano and Vatican Radio-Vatican News, states that “in a world characterized by tensions, oppositions and conflicts”, the Pope’s visit and the events in Bahrain in which he participates are “a message of unity, cohesion and peace”.
Q. Your Eminence, Francis will be the first pope to visit Bahrain. How did this visit come about?
The visit stems from an invitation that the King of Bahrain addressed to the Holy Father, first in a more informal way, then concretized and formalized in a personal letter. And it also coincides with this Dialogue Forum for Peaceful Coexistence. To the invitation of the King is then added the invitation of the local Church, in the person of the apostolic administrator, Bishop Hinder. I would also like to take advantage of this meeting preceding the Pope’s visit to express my deep gratitude to the King and the authorities of Bahrain, as well as to the Church of Bahrain, for this invitation and for the preparations they are making for the The arrival of the Holy Father, [and] for their welcome.
Q. The Pope will participate in the final phase of the Forum dedicated to dialogue for human coexistence between East and West: what message does he want to communicate in a global context like today?
I think the message that emerges from this Forum and from the participation of the Holy Father is quite clear. It is a sign of unity at a particularly delicate, complex and, in some ways, tragic moment in our history. It is an invitation to dialogue, an invitation to encounter between East and West, in a reality, like that of Bahrain, which is a multiethnic, multicultural and multireligious reality; hence the ability to live together, the ability to collaborate even in a composite reality such as that which characterizes this country.
There will also be two meetings on this same occasion, one of the Muslim Council of Elders – which is an organization representing Muslim religious leaders committed to dialogue and respect for religions – and then also an ecumenical meeting where many representatives of different countries will converge. But the signal is always the same: in a world characterized by tensions, contrasts, conflicts, [it is] a message of unity, cohesion, peace.
Q. The Pope’s presence at the Forum brings back memories of Abu Dhabi, of the Document on Human Fraternity: For World Peace and Living Together. This text recalls, in continuity with the Magisterium of the Popes, that the name of God can never be used to justify violence and war. How relevant is this message today?
It seems to me that this is very topical and it is a bit of a “red thread” that links all the trips that the Pope has made to these countries; let’s remember the last one in Kazakhstan. But we can also go back to the trip he made to Iraq, for example, last year, or before that to the Arab Emirates, Morocco, Egypt, Azerbaijan.
And this red thread is simply to say that between God and hatred, between religion and violence, there is an absolute incompatibility, there is an impossibility of any contact and any conciliation, because whoever accepts hatred and violence distorts the very nature of religion.
And especially in Kazakhstan, the Pope insisted on two points that I think are important to take up here: on the one hand, purification, that is to say that there is always also the temptation to manipulate religion and sometimes use it for purposes that are not religious, [and] therefore for purposes of power, for purposes of oppression. So the Pope invites us to this profound purification. And at the same time to unite: really, the religions can work together in this direction, precisely to eliminate any misunderstanding, so that religion always becomes a factor of reconciliation, a factor of peace, a factor of cohesion and harmony .
Q. Inclusion and respect for human life are paths always evoked and attested by the Pope: what meaning do they have for this trip to Bahrain?
They always have the same meaning. The Pope interprets the deep expectations of so many people who do not see their rights respected, their fundamental rights to life, to inclusion, to the sharing of the goods of the earth. And so, here too, the Pope will be the voice of the voiceless and will reach out to people who are, in a certain sense, on the periphery. However, it seems to me that these values are proclaimed in the very Constitution of the country, which speaks of avoiding discrimination on the basis of any characteristic.
Q. In Bahrain, the main religion is Islam; Catholics are a small minority. How are relations between the Holy See and this Gulf country going?
Yes, it’s true, in Bahrain Islam is the state religion and Sharia is the main source of law. The Christian community represents about ten percent of this population and there are between 80 and 100,000 Catholics. Relations with the Holy See were established in 2000 and I think they are good. On the part of the State authorities, there has always been respect and cooperation with Catholics, both the faithful and the Apostolic Vicar. The Pope’s visit will also serve precisely to meet this community and encourage it in its life and witness.
Q. The Pope will be in the cities of Manama and Avali. Here, the Cathedral of Our Lady of Arabia was consecrated a year ago: the first stone of this church — a brick from the holy door of Saint Peter’s Basilica — was donated by Francis himself…
Yes, there is this very close connection through this symbolic stone which constitutes the foundation of this church. This church is important, it is important for the community, obviously, which needs places of worship where it can exercise, live its faith at the level of the celebration.
But it is also important as a sign of this respect and this attention, which I mentioned earlier, on the part of the authorities of the country towards the Christian community. It is therefore a beautiful symbol, as well as a concrete reality, of what has been until now and what we hope will be even more the attitude towards the Christian community.