ROME – When Pope Francis becomes the first pontiff to visit Bahrain, a Muslim-majority Gulf country, next month, it will mark another milestone in his ongoing efforts to strengthen dialogue with Islam and encourage the country’s small Christian minority. .
Talk to NodeBishop Paul Hinder – vicar emeritus of the Apostolic Vicariate of South Arabia and current administrator of the Apostolic Vicariate of North Arabia in Kuwait – said Pope Francis’ upcoming visit to Bahrain is “a continuation of the pontiff’s dialogue with the world Muslim”.
“I think one of the most pressing issues is the issue of violence and the emphasis on the values of justice and peace,” he said.
While Bahrain is a predominantly Muslim nation with a small Christian community, Pope Francis is still widely recognized and appreciated, Hinder said. The pope’s efforts to find solutions to the “many humanitarian problems and crises that afflict the world,” especially the plight of migrants fleeing war and persecution, “have not gone unnoticed, especially in this part of the world.”
Pope Francis will travel to Bahrain Nov. 3-6 to attend a conference titled “Bahrain Forum for Dialogue: East and West for Human Coexistence,” which is expected to attract other high-level religious leaders , including the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar in Egypt, Ahmed el-Tayeb.
The pair were recently in Kazakhstan together for another high-level interfaith summit, and in 2019 they signed a document on human brotherhood during the Pope’s visit to Abu Dhabi.
Noting that Francis will be the first pope to visit Bahrain, Hinder said the visit “is like a dream come true” and that the announcement of the visit “caused great excitement, not only among Catholics, but even among people of other faiths who live in the small island nation.
Bahrain, which is 70% Muslim, is home to the first Catholic church in the Persian Gulf, which opened in the capital Manama in 1939, as well as its largest, the Cathedral of Our Lady of Arabia, which opened the last year in the city of Awali and was built on land donated by His Majesty King Hamad.
Pope Francis will visit both cities during his visit.
Please read below for NodeInterview with Bishop Paul Hinder:
Node: What is the significance of the Pope’s visit to Bahrain? What does this mean for local people, especially Christians?
hinder: The papal visit to Bahrain has enormous significance for this predominantly Muslim region. Pope Francis mainly comes to Bahrain to address the “Bahrain Forum for Dialogue” at the invitation of His Majesty the King. Pope Francis has placed great importance on encounters and encounters with those who have different beliefs and has taken several courageous steps to meet “the other” with all respective differences. He never hesitated to dialogue and to try to find common ways to advance the dialogue with the other. We have seen this in the past during the historic visit to Abu Dhabi which resulted in the signing of the Document on Human Fraternity, which expresses the commitment of the two signatories – the Pope and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar – to work together to solve common global issues and problems. The Pope’s visit to Bahrain is once again a continuation of the trip already begun in Abu Dhabi.
At the same time, the warm welcome he received in Abu Dhabi during his visit to the United Arab Emirates in 2019 as well as the respect he receives from different leaders of the Arabian Peninsula are a sign that his efforts to try to find solutions to the many humanitarian problems and crises that afflict the world, in particular the reception and integration of the weakest and most vulnerable segments of human society, such as homeless migrants who are forced to abandoning their homes due to war and persecution have not gone unnoticed, especially in this part of the world.
For many Catholics in Bahrain, who have been looking forward to this visit since the King of Bahrain personally invited the Pope, it is like a dream come true. Bahrain has two parishes, the Church of the Sacred Heart, which is also the first church in the Persian Gulf, built and opened in 1939, and the Cathedral of Our Lady of Arabia, which was built on land (9000 square meters ) gifted by His Majesty King Hamad. The news of the papal visit has caused great emotion, not only among Catholics, but even among people of other faiths who live in the small island nation.
Why now? The pope will attend the Bahrain Forum for Dialogue to promote human coexistence between East and West, but there have likely been invitations for other events in the past. Why do you think the pope accepted the invitation for this one?
Relations between the Kingdom of Bahrain and the Vatican have come a long way in recent years. In 2014, His Majesty King Hamad presented a model of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Arabia to Pope Francis and also invited the Pontiff to visit the Kingdom. This was followed by visits from the Crown Prince [His Highness] Prince Salman in 2020 and the representative of the King who renewed the invitation again in 2021.
King Hamad also approved the document on human brotherhood, signed in Abu Dhabi by the pontiff and Dr. Ahmed el-Tayeb, Grand Imam of Al-Azhar in 2019, which aims to promote the spirit of brotherhood and cooperation. between followers of different faiths while working. together to address the challenges and issues that threaten the common home and the fabric of societies.
The Bahrain Forum for Dialogue reflects the Kingdom’s positioning as a developed and liberal country that seeks to have a leading voice in the conversation about values and goals that can unite people and contribute to the progress of the human race. . When the opportunity presented itself, Pope Francis felt that the time had come to pay the island nation the long-awaited visit.
What is the importance of this forum, particularly in the regional context? Will there be other great religious leaders present?
Details of the forum are being worked on and are still awaited from the organizers. We understand that there will be leaders of several other religions who will be present. We know that Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar will be present. At the regional level, the forum will be important because by hosting such an event, the Kingdom of Bahrain seeks to reiterate its commitment to tolerance and respect for all religions and also seeks to find answers and seek ways to resolve the pressing issues.
Based on your own experience, what do you think are the most pressing issues to discuss regarding East-West relations? How important is this discussion, especially in the current global context?
It is a continuation of the pontiff’s dialogue with the Muslim world. I think one of the most pressing issues is the issue of violence and the emphasis on the values of justice and peace. There is the famous saying: “There is no peace without justice”. Discussions should seek to do justice as much as possible to different sectors. The first step is for each party to be able to express themselves and listen to the other. Although it is a long and complicated path, we must pursue the part of dialogue without getting tired. Dialogue is the only avenue open in a world where there is no longer the possibility of using violence to secure one’s path, because it opens up frightening possibilities towards weapons of mass destruction which will ultimately target the innocent of both sides.
The second step is to establish mutual trust and credibility. This cannot be done without respecting the fundamental rules of international law. A way must be found to ban the weapons that can destroy human life on earth and make our planet uninhabitable. Finally, we must be aware that justice and peace are not simply the result of goodwill, diplomatic negotiations and a reliable legal framework, but finally a gift from God for which we must pray. Pope Francis reminds us from time to time of the truth that there will be no peace on earth if we are not at peace with God.
What is unique about the religious composition of Bahrain, and in particular about Christianity in Bahrain? What is special about the church there?
Bahrain has over 80,000 Roman Catholics, the majority of whom are migrants from various countries including the Indian subcontinent and the Philippines, while the population is 70% Muslim. Bahrain is also one of the few GCC countries [Gulf Cooperation Council] country to have a local Christian population – largely Roman Catholic – of around 1,000 people, mostly Arab Christians from the Middle East who migrated to Bahrain between the 1930s and 1950s and now hold Bahraini citizenship.
Bahrain has a history of religious freedom and tolerance for nearly 200 years and allows places of worship for all religions. The Kingdom has been very welcoming to the expatriate Christian community and offers a climate of openness and tolerance allowing people of different beliefs to practice their faith. Bahrain is a vibrant community with a rich cultural mix – a model of the peaceful coexistence of the many different faiths that live and work side by side in the island nation.
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