Follow the latest news on Pope Francis' visit to Bahrain
Pope Francis condemned the “monstrous and senseless reality of war” as he began a four-day trip to Bahrain that will focus on peace between religions and dialogue between the East and West.
The leader of the world's 1.3 billion Catholics criticised military spending on conflicts, at a time when there are millions starving.
“Let us reject the logic of weapons and change course, diverting enormous military expenditures to investments in combating hunger and the lack of health care and education,” he said.
The pontiff spoke at Sakhir Royal Palace outside Manama, where members of Bahrain's royal family, government officials and hundreds of media outlets gathered.
The occasion marks only the second time in history that a pope has visited the Arabian Peninsula.
On Friday, he will attend a multi-faith event between religious leaders and on Saturday celebrate a Mass for 28,000 Catholics at the country's largest stadium.
Pope Francis did not single out current conflicts, but warned against escalating military spending on “senseless war”.
“May we never allow opportunities for encounter between civilisations, religions and cultures to evaporate, or the roots of our humanity to become desecrated and lifeless,” he said in a translation from Latin.
Clash of weapons
“Let us work together. Let us work in the service of togetherness and hope.”
He briefly spoke of the turmoil in Yemen, where his thoughts were with a place “torn by a forgotten war that, like every war, issues not in victory but only in bitter defeat for everyone”.
He prayed for civilians, children, the elderly and the sick and begged for “an end to the clash of weapons”.
On religion, he said that we are in a period of greater understanding between faiths today.
“These days mark a precious stage in the journey of friendship that has intensified in recent years with various Islamic religious leaders — a fraternal journey that, beneath the gaze of heaven, seeks to foster peace on earth,” he said.
Pope Francis used Bahrain as an example of a multi-faith nation where millions worship in accordance with their own beliefs.
“To all, I express my joy to be in your midst,” he said.
'This multicultural island nation'
“Here, where the waters of the sea surround the sands of the desert, and imposing skyscrapers rise beside traditional Oriental markets, very different realities come together: ancient and modern converge; tradition and progress mix; and above all, people from various backgrounds create a distinctive mosaic of life.”
Using the example of the majestic acacia tree, or Shajarat-al-Hayat, that survives in the desert with very little rainfall, he connected it to a country that has welcomed people over thousands of years.
“We see how Bahrain’s geographical position, the talents and commercial abilities of its people, together with historical events, have enabled it to take shape as a crossroads of mutual enrichment between peoples,” he said.
“One thing stands out in the history of this land: it has always been a place of encounter between different peoples.
“On these islands, we can admire a composite, multi-ethnic and multi-religious society, capable of overcoming the risk of isolation. This is so important in our time.”
He stressed these commitments should be constantly put into practice, “so that religious freedom will be complete and not limited to freedom of worship; that equal dignity and equal opportunities will be concretely recognised for each group and for every individual; that no forms of discrimination exist and that fundamental human rights are not violated but promoted.”
He also spoke of the contribution made by immigrants in a country where they account for 50 per cent of the 1.5 million population.
Touching on dehumanising labour conditions globally, he said this posed the risk of social instability and was a threat to human dignity.
“Let us guarantee that working conditions everywhere are safe and dignified, that they foster rather than hinder people’s cultural and spiritual growth; and that they serve to advance social cohesion, to the benefit of common life and the development of each country,” he said.
King Hamad hailed the Pope’s presence as historic and blessed.
He said the Pope’s visit would leave “a great moral and spiritual legacy in the hearts of admirers in our Gulf and the Arab region.”
King Hamad echoed the Pope’s call for peace by calling on world powers to end the“Russian-Ukrainian war and to begin serious negotiations between the two parties.”
On climate change, the Pope said he hoped the United Nations Climate Change Conference — Cop27 — that will take place from Sunday would mark a step forward.
Pope gives King Hamad a medal
Pope Francis gave a unique medal to King Hamad that records the ancient connections and deep bond between the people of the country and the Catholic church.
Designed by an Italian artist, the work has an image of the country’s famed tree of life, a majestic acacia tree. The roots of the tree frame an archaeological site in Bahrain that was the capital of Dilmun, a kingdom that flourished thousands of years ago in the fourth millennium BCE.
At the centre of the coin is the statue of Our Lady of Arabia that was recently built in a cathedral of the same name in Awali, near Bahrain’s capital Manama.
The cathedral was built on land donated by King Hamad.
The region’s oldest Sacred Heart Church features to the right of the cathedral, the first Catholic church to be built in the region in the late 1930s.
A Latin inscription commemorates the visit with the date of the Pope’s visit to Bahrain.