Pope Francis is the guest of the Kingdom of Bahrain on November 3-6. In fact, this is neither the first time that the Pope comes to Arab countries, nor is the first time that he visits a Gulf state.
Since the start of his papacy in 2013, specifically on March 13, the world has learned that the new Argentinean pope would open the horizons for serious and fruitful cooperation with a number of new countries that he had neither visited nor had his predecessor pope saints done so.
His first visit to the Middle East was to the Holy Land in 2014, which started from Jordan, the land of Baptism. He also visited Palestine and noble Jerusalem. This visit was intended to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the visit of Pope Saint Paul VI. Then, in 2015, he came to the Arab Republic of Egypt, and from there began the fruitful cooperation between the Vatican and Al-Azhar which was marked by a meeting that was preceded by a first meeting in the Vatican between the Pope and the Sheikh Ahmad Al-Tayib who refer to each other as close friends.
This was followed by Pope Francis' visit to the United Arab Emirates in February 2019 where His Holiness the Pope, along with Ahmad Al-Tayyib, the grand imam of Al-Azhar and chairman of the Muslim Council of Elders, signed an important document that became a milestone on the role of Christian and Islamic cooperation not only in the Middle East, but in the entire world, namely "the Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together" that was the outcome of the Conference on Human Fraternity, which brought together several groups of senior scholars, and intellectuals of Muslim and Christian clergymen from all over the world.
This was followed by a visit to the Kingdom of Morocco in March 2019, whose aim was to shed light on the activities conducted by the Church regarding the situation of numerical minorities, with a view of the great human services provided to immigrants, as well as signing the "Appeal for Jerusalem" on the need to maintain its status quo in its capacity as a common human heritage and a symbol of common living among the followers of the three Abraham religions.
In 2021, Pope Francis surprised the world with a historic visit to the Republic of Iraq, which was aimed at performing a pilgrimage to the birthplace of Prophet Abraham in the city of Ur, and to convey a great moral message to Christians and to all their citizens in the country of Mesopotamia in the wake of ISIS terrorism as well as the bitter years marked by violence which were burdened by political and security instability. During the visit, a meeting took place between him and Grand Ayatullah Sayyid Ali Husaini Sistani as a sign of the rapprochement between the Catholic Church and the Shiite sect.
This was followed by an announcement of an imminent visit by Pope Francis to Bahrain which was one of the first countries in the Arab Gulf that highlighted the freedom to practise religious rites marked with the presence of the first church in the country, namely the Sacred Heart Church, which was built and inaugurated in 1939 and was followed by the church renowned as a historical treasure and masterpiece by which I mean the Cathedral of Our Lady of Arabia, located in the city of Awali. The land on which the cathedral was built was donated by His Majesty King Hamad Ibn Isa Ibn Salman Al Khalifa, and it was inaugurated last year in the presence of a personal representative of Pope Francis, Cardinal Luis Tagle.
It is important not to forget the prevailing diplomatic relations between the two friendly countries, namely the Kingdom of Bahrain and Vatican or rather the Holy See as it is called in international circles. The diplomatic relations were established in 2000, after which several official delegations were received in the Vatican. During the apostasy of Pope Francis in particular, His Majesty the King Hamad Ibn Isa Al Khalifa was a dear and honorable guest in 2014, followed by a visit by Crown Prince and Prime Minister His Royal Highness Prince Salman Ibn Hamad Al Khalifa in 2020, as well as a visit by His Majesty’s Adviser for Diplomatic Affairs His Excellency Sheikh Khalid Ibn Ahmad Ibn Mohammad Al Khalifa in 2021, when he delivered a written message from His Majesty the King inviting Pope Francis to visit the Kingdom of Bahrain.
From an ecclesiastical point of view, Bahrain is affiliated with the Apostolic Vicariate of the Northern Arabia whose current apostolic administrator is Bishop Paul Hinder, who ended his service in Abu Dhabi last year. Yet, Pope Francis named him as apostolic administrator after the death of the bishop, who is remembered by the Church of Bahrain with all reverence and appreciation, namely Bishop Camillo Ballin who had a dream to see the built cathedral whose construction began prior to his passing away in 2020.
The world currently looks forward to this historic visit to Bahrain, especially as it starts at the international conference called by the Kingdom of Bahrain under royal patronage, namely “Bahrain Forum for Dialogue: East and West for Human Living Together.” The world aspires to see the Manama Declaration, which will be announced from the heart of this dear Arab country that promoted love, peace, and tranquility among all the believers and the peoples in the region which has always been branded as the region of conflicts, yet it looks forward for the attainment of days of prosperity, stability and lasting peace, God willing.
His Holiness the Pope will hold a meeting with the Christians present in Bahrain, who are members of the Arab and foreign communities. They enjoy religious freedom, and consequently they reflect the sublime and wonderful image of the Kingdom of Bahrain which always preserves the human right to freedom of worship, freedom to perform religious rites, and the freedom to come to churches as well as to other places of worship which are revered by the Kingdom.
The world is looks forward to the massive Holy Mass that Pope Francis will preside at the Bahrain National Stadium, where this Holy Mass always serves as an occasion to meet the Christians present in any country. It is a testament to the good reception that the Kingdom of Bahrain has mastered for all variety of people regardless of their ethnic or religious affiliation. This will be highlighted and will receive huge media coverage, as His Holiness in accompanied by about 70 journalists, in addition to writers, journalists and media professionals to cover the international conference, as well as the Pope's visits which are covered by the public and private ecclesiastical media outlets around the world, which will consequently shed light on the situation of religious freedom in Bahrain, the status of freedom of religious rites, and the situation of Christians who contribute to the development of this country that welcomes all components of the human community.
Our plead with God to protect the Kingdom of Bahrain, and to perpetuate the respect that the Constitution, His Majesty the King, and the entire system of government that hold high for all beliefs, especially for the followers of the Christian faith, as they work with affiliation and gratitude to Bahrain that welcomes them, and to which they reciprocate sincerity and loyalty. We hope that a fruitful final statement will be concluded to serve as a new cornerstone in the world of Muslim-Christian encounter and cooperation which will reverberate in all parts of the world.