Pope Francis addressed the authorities, civil society and the diplomatic corps of Bahrain on Thursday afternoon (3 November) at the Royal Palace of Sakhir in Awali. It was the first public address of his 39th International Apostolic Journey. Previously, the Pope had met with the King of Bahrain, Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. The following is the English text of the Holy Father’s words.
Your Majesty, Your Royal Highnesses,
Honorable Members of the Government and of the Diplomatic Corps,
Distinguished Religious and Civil Authorities,
Ladies and gentlemen,
express my deep gratitude to His Majesty for his invitation to visit the Kingdom of Bahrain, his warm and courteous hospitality and his kind words. I greet you all most cordially. I would like to address a word of friendship and affection to all those who live in this country: to each believer and individual and to the members of each family, which the Constitution of Bahrain defines as “the basis of society”. To all of you, I express my joy at being among you.
Here, where the waters of the sea surround the sands of the desert, and where imposing skyscrapers rise next to traditional oriental markets, very different realities come together: the ancient and the modern converge; mixture of tradition and progress; and most importantly, people from diverse backgrounds create a mosaic of life. While preparing for my visit, I discovered a remarkable “emblem of vitality” in this country, which is the “Tree of Life” (Shajarat-al-Hayat). I would like to take inspiration from this to share some thoughts with you. The tree itself is a majestic acacia that has survived for centuries in a desert area with very little rainfall. It seems impossible that a tree of this age could have lived and flourished under these conditions. According to many people, the secret lies in its roots, which extend for tens of meters underground, drawing from underground water tables.
Roots, then. The Kingdom of Bahrain is committed to remembering and cherishing its past, which tells the story of an extremely ancient land, to which peoples came thousands of years ago, drawn by its beauty, due especially to the abundant springs of fresh water which have earned it the reputation of being a paradise. The ancient kingdom of Dilmun was thus called “the land of the living”. As we rise from these vast roots – which have spanned more than 4,500 years of uninterrupted human presence – we see how Bahrain’s geographical position, the talents and trading abilities of its people, and historical events, enabled it to take shape as a crossroads of mutual enrichment between peoples. One thing emerges from the history of this land: it has always been a meeting place between different peoples.
It’s done life-giving water from which, even today, the roots of Bahrain continue to be nourished. The greatest riches of the country shine in its ethnic and cultural diversity, as well as in the peaceful coexistence and traditional hospitality of its inhabitants. A diversity that is not bland, but inclusive, is the wealth of any truly developed country. On these islands, one can admire a composite, multi-ethnic and multi-religious society, capable of overcoming the risk of isolation. This is so important in our time, where the tendency to focus exclusively on ourselves and our particular interests prevents us from appreciating the essential importance of the greater whole. The many national, ethnic and religious groups that coexist in Bahrain testify that we can and must live together in our world which, during these decades, has become a global village. Indeed, if globalization has taken root, we still lack in many respects the “village spirit”, as evidenced by the welcome, the concern for others and the sense of fraternity. Instead, we are witnessing with deep concern the massive spread of indifference and mutual distrust, the emergence of rivalries and conflicts that we hoped were a thing of the past, and forms of populism, extremism and imperialism that jeopardize everyone’s security. Despite progress and so many forms of social and scientific achievement, the cultural disparity between the different parts of the world is growing and destructive attitudes of conflict are preferred to beneficial opportunities for fruitful encounters.
Let us rather think of the Tree of Life, your symbol, and of the arid deserts of human coexistence let us bring the water of fraternity. May we never allow the opportunities for encounter between civilizations, religions and cultures to evaporate, or the roots of our humanity to dry up and atrophy! Let’s work together ! Let’s work in the service of living together and hope! I am here, in this land of the Tree of Life, as sower of peace, in order to live these days of encounter and participate in a Forum of dialogue between East and West in favor of a peaceful human coexistence. I still thank my traveling companions today, especially the representatives of religions. These days mark a precious step in the journey of friendship which has intensified in recent years with various Islamic religious leaders, a fraternal journey which, under the gaze of heaven, seeks to foster peace on earth.
In this regard, I express my appreciation for the International Conferences and opportunities for encounter that this Kingdom organizes and promotes, with particular emphasis on the themes of respect, tolerance and religious freedom. These are fundamental themes, recognized by the country’s Constitution, which stipulates that “there shall be no discrimination…based on sex, origin, language, religion or creed” (art. 18) , that “freedom of conscience is absolute”, and that “the State guarantees the inviolability of religion” (art. 22). These are above all commitments that must be constantly put into practice, so that religious freedom is total and is not limited to freedom of worship; that equality of dignity and equality of opportunity be concretely recognized for each group and for each individual; that no form of discrimination exists and that fundamental human rights are not violated but promoted. I am thinking first of all of the right to life, of the need to always guarantee this right, including for those who are punished, whose life must not be taken away.
Let’s go back to the Tree of Life. Over time, its many branches of varying size produced abundant foliage, increasing the height and width of the tree. In this country, it is the contribution of so many individuals from different peoples that has resulted in a remarkable increase in productivity. This was made possible by immigration. The Kingdom of Bahrain has one of the highest levels of immigration in the world: about half of the resident population is foreign, obviously working for the development of a country in which, despite the abandonment of their country origin, they feel at home. . At the same time, we must recognize that in our world unemployment levels remain too high and much of the work is in fact dehumanizing. This not only entails a serious risk of social instability, but poses a threat to human dignity. Because work is not only necessary to earn a living: it is a right, essential to the integral development of oneself and to the formation of a truly human society.
From this country so attractive for the job opportunities it offers, I would like to draw attention once again to the global labor crisis. Labor is as precious as bread; like bread, it is often lacking, and often also, it is a poisoned bread, since it enslaves. In both cases, what is central is no longer the men and women who, instead of being the sacred and inviolable end and goal of work, are reduced to a simple means of producing wealth. Let us guarantee that working conditions everywhere are safe and dignified, that they favor rather than hinder the cultural and spiritual growth of people; and that they serve to advance social cohesion, to the benefit of common life and the development of each country (cf. Gaudium and Spes9, 27, 60, 67).
Bahrain can be proud of its important contributions in this regard: I am thinking, for example, of the first school for women created in the Gulf and the abolition of slavery. May he be a beacon in the region for the promotion of equal rights and the improvement of the conditions of workers, women and young people, while guaranteeing the respect and concern of all those who feel the more on the margins of society, such as immigrants and prisoners. Because authentic, human and integral development is measured above all by the attention paid to them.
The Tree of Life, rising from the desert landscape, also makes me think of two critical areas for everyone, but which challenge above all those who, in governing, have the responsibility to serve the common good. First, the issue of the environment. How many trees are cut down, how many ecosystems are devastated, how many seas are polluted by our insatiable human greed, which then comes back to bite us! Let us work tirelessly to face this dramatic emergency and adopt concrete and far-sighted decisions inspired by concern for future generations, before it is too late and their future is compromised! That the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27), which will take place in Egypt in a few days, marks a step forward in this regard!
Secondly, the Tree of Life, whose roots which, deep underground, supply vital water to the trunk, and from the trunk to the branches and then to the leaves which give oxygen to creatures, makes me think of our human vocation, the vocation of every man and woman on earth, to make life flourish. Yet today we are witnessing more and more murderous actions and threats. I am thinking above all of the monstrous and senseless reality of war, which sows destruction everywhere and crushes hope. War brings out the worst in people: selfishness, violence and dishonesty. For war, any war, brings in its wake the death of truth. Let’s reject the logic of weapons and change course, diverting huge military spending to investments in the fight against hunger and the lack of health care and education. I am deeply saddened by all these conflict situations. Surveying the Arabian Peninsula, whose countries I greet with deep respect, my thoughts turn in a particular and sincere way to Yemen, torn apart by a forgotten war which, like any war, does not end in victory but only to a bitter defeat for all. I especially keep civilians, children, the elderly and the sick in my prayers. And I beg: let there be an end to the clash of arms! Let there be an end to the clash of arms! Let there be an end to the clash of arms! Let us commit ourselves, everywhere and concretely, to building peace!
The Declaration of the Kingdom of Bahrain recognizes in this respect that “religious faith is a blessing for all humanity and the foundation of peace in the world”. I am here today as a believer, as a Christian, as a man and as a pilgrim of peace, because today, more than ever, we are called everywhere to commit ourselves seriously to the peace. Your Majesty, Your Royal Highnesses, eminent authorities and friends, I therefore make mine and share with you, as well as my hope and prayer for these much-desired days of my visit to the Kingdom of Bahrain, a beautiful passage from the same Declaration. It reads: “We are committed to working for a world where people of sincere conviction come together to reject what divides us and instead focus on celebrating and expanding what unites us.” So be it, with the blessing of the Most High! Choukran! [Thank you!]