Pope Francis becomes first pope to visit Bahrain

Francis landed in the Kingdom of Bahrain Thursday 3rd November 2022, becoming the first pope to visit the Muslim island nation located in the Persian Gulf.

By Hannah Brockhaus [Catholic News Agency]

On the flight from Rome, the pope told journalists aboard the papal plane it is “an interesting trip [that will] make us think about sharing good news.” Francis, who usually walks around the plane to greet media members, said he was in a lot of pain, and asked journalists to approach him where he was seated instead.

Pope Francis visited Bahrain from 3-6 November. Located to the east of Saudi Arabia and west of Qatar, the country has a total population of 1.5 million, according to a 2022 estimate by the CIA World Factbook.

There are around 161,000 Catholics in Bahrain, many of whom are migrants from Asia, particularly the Philippines and India, according to 2020 Vatican statistics. There are two Catholic churches and 20 Catholic priests.

The visit’s theme was “Peace on earth to people of goodwill,” inspired by Luke 2:14, and included meetings with both Muslim leaders and the small Christian community.

The population is more than 70 percent Muslim, with the majority belonging to the Shiite branch of Islam, the country’s state religion.

Speaking to journalists aboard the flight on 3rd November, Cardinal Miguel Ángel Ayuso Guixot, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, said he hoped the papal visit would help improve the situation between Sunni and Shia Muslims in Bahrain.

While Shia Muslims are the majority of the population, Bahrain’s royal family belongs to the Sunni branch of Islam, leading to protracted sectarian tension in the country. Human rights groups have also accused the government of committing abuses against both the Shia majority and migrant workers, and of unfair imprisonments.

Cardinal Ayuso said Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa is the only person in the country with the power to release Shia political prisoners. After landing in the country, Pope Francis’s first appointment was a private meeting with the king.

The pope also addressed members of the government and civil society on 3rd November.

On the second day of the visit, the pope gave the closing speech at the Bahrain Forum for Dialogue: East and West for Human Coexistence.


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