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Thousands pack Bahrain stadium for Mass

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Pope slams ‘childlike’ whims of powerful that start wars

MANAMA, Nov 5, (AP): Thousands of Christians from around the Gulf packed Bahrain’s sports stadium on Saturday for Pope Francis’ big Mass, as he shifted the attention of his four-day visit to ministering to the Catholic community in the overwhelmingly Muslim region. The English-language liturgy was clearly geared toward the South Asian migrant workers who make up the bulk of the Gulf’s Catholics, with prayers in Malay, Tagalog and Tamil and a priest offering English translations of the pope’s native Spanish homily.

Ahmed El-Tayeb, Grand Imam of al-Azhar, Pope Francis and Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa leave the closing session of the ‘Bahrain Forum for Dialogue: East and West for Human Coexistence’, at the Al-Fida Square at the Sakhir Royal Palace, Bahrain, Friday, Nov. 4, 2022. (AP)

Pilgrims wearing identical white caps to shade them from the morning sun waved the yellow and white flags of the Holy See as Francis looped around the Bahrain National Stadium in his popemobile before Mass. A big cheer erupted when he kissed a young girl in a bubble-gum pink dress who was brought to the vehicle. According to the Vatican, local organizers estimated some 30,000 people attended the service. Organizers had said that passes to the event were snapped up within two days of them becoming available, with pilgrims coming from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other Gulf countries. “This is actually a very huge honor,” said Bijoy Joseph, an Indian living in Saudi Arabia who attended. “This is like a blessing for us to be part of our Holy Father’s papal Mass in Bahrain.”

Pope Francis celebrates Mass at the Bahrain National Stadium in Riffa, Bahrain, Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022. Pope Francis is making the November 3-6 visit to participate in a government-sponsored conference on East-West dialogue and to minister to Bahrain’s tiny Catholic community, part of his effort to pursue dialogue with the Muslim world

Francis is on the first-ever papal visit to the island kingdom the size of New York City that lies off the coast of Saudi Arabia. The primary aim was to participate in a government sponsored interfaith conference to promote Catholic-Muslim dialogue. But for the final two days, he shifted gears to focus on ministering to the Catholic community, a minority in the country of around 1.5 million. Most are workers from India, Pakistan, the Philippines and other South Asian countries, many of whom have left behind their families to work in Bahrain’s construction, oil extraction and domestic service industries. In his homily, Francis urged them to do good, and turn the other cheek, “even when evil is done to us.”

“There will be cases of friction, moments of tension, conflicts and opposing viewpoints, but those who follow the Prince of Peace must always strive for peace. And peace cannot be restored if a harsh word is answered with an even harsher one,” he said. “No, we need to ‘disarm,’ to shatter the chains of evil, to break the spiral of violence, and to put an end to resentment, complaints and self-pity.” Sebastian Fernandez, an Indian living in Bahrain, said he was blessed to be able to attend. “It will be a fruitful Mass and we are happy to see our pope,” he said.

After the Mass, Francis was meeting with young people at the Sacred Heart school, which dates from the 1940s and is affiliated with the church of the same name that was the first Catholic Church built in the Gulf. Francis wraps up his visit Sunday meeting with priests and nuns at the church. With Russia’s war in Ukraine raging, Pope Francis joined Muslim, Christian and Jewish leaders on Friday in calling for the great religions to work together for peace, telling an interfaith summit that religion must never be used to justify violence and that faith leaders must oppose the “childlike” whims of the powerful to make war.

On his second day in the Gulf Arab kingdom of Bahrain, Francis closed out a conference on East-West dialogue sponsored by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and then met separately with Muslim leaders at the royal mosque. It was his second such conference in as many months, following one in Kazakhstan, evidence of Francis’ core belief that moments of encounter among people of different faiths can help heal today’s confl icts and promote a more just and sustainable world.

Sitting around him in the Sakhir royal palace grounds were leading Muslim imams, the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians and U.S. rabbis who have long engaged in interfaith dialogue. Speaker after speaker called for an end to Russia’s war in Ukraine and the start of peace negotiations. The Russian Orthodox Church, which sent an envoy to the conference, has strongly supported the Kremlin in its war and justified it on religious grounds. Francis told the gathering that, while the world seems to be heading apart like two opposing seas, the mere presence of religious leaders together was evidence that they “intend to set sail on the same waters, choosing the route of encounter rather than that of confrontation.”

“It is a striking paradox that, while the majority of the world’s population is united in facing the same difficulties, suffering from grave food, ecological and pan- On his second day in the Gulf Arab kingdom of Bahrain, Francis closed out a conference on East-West dialogue sponsored by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and then met separately with Muslim leaders at the royal mosque. It was his second such conference in as many months, following one in Kazakhstan, evidence of Francis’ core belief that moments of encounter among people of different faiths can help heal today’s conflicts and promote a more just and sustainable world. Sitting around him in the Sakhir royal palace grounds were leading Muslim imams, the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians and U.S. rabbis who have long engaged in interfaith dialogue. Speaker after speaker called for an end to Russia’s war in Ukraine and the start of peace negotiations.

The Russian Orthodox Church, which sent an envoy to the conference, has strongly supported the Kremlin in its war and justified it on religious grounds. Francis told the gathering that, while the world seems to be heading apart like two opposing seas, the mere presence of religious leaders together was evidence that they “intend to set sail on the same waters, choosing the route of encounter rather than that of confrontation.” “It is a striking paradox that, while the majority of the world’s population is united in facing the same difficulties, suffering from grave food, ecological and pandemic crises, as well as an increasingly scandalous global injustice, a few potentates are caught up in a resolute struggle for partisan interests,” he said.

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