Pope's visit to Bahrain: 100-strong choir to sing in English, Arabic, Tagalog and Hindi

Choristers will perform as the pontiff enters Bahrain National Stadium

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Off a busy street in Manama, hectic preparations are under way in the grounds of a historic church that is preparing to welcome Pope Francis on his second visit to the Arabian Gulf.

The soaring voices of a 100-strong choir singing “hallelujah” spills out of a building where singers and musicians are practising for the Papal Mass next month.

The wood-panelled walls of the Sacred Heart Church, the oldest in the region, have been polished, colourful glass windows scrubbed and a fresh coat of cream paint slapped on the walls of the buildings that encircle the church.

Pope Francis will visit the Mother Church, as the 83-year-old church is fondly called, on the final day of his four-day tour of Bahrain that starts on November 3.

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I keep telling the choir this is not a performance. We are singing to touch the hearts of the people, so let every hymn be a prayer from your heart
Walter Braganza, choir conductor

Children have prepared banners to welcome the pope as families hope to seek his blessings during the Mass on November 5.

“It’s our first experience of such a giant event,” said Walter Braganza, the choir conductor who will lead a group of 95 singers and eight musicians on the violin, flute, guitar and keyboard.

“I keep telling the choir this is not a performance. We are singing to touch the hearts of the people, so let every hymn be a prayer from your heart.”

Choir members are thrilled and nervous to sing before a crowd of 28,000 at the Bahrain National Stadium and for the hundreds of thousands who will watch the Mass streamed live.

Drawn from different nationalities that live in the small island state, the choir is a reflection of the multicultural society.

When the pontiff enters the stadium on the Popemobile, the choir will sing verses from the hymn Jesus Christ, you are my life, in English, Arabic, Tagalog and Hindi to represent the diversity of the people who live and work in the country.

The choir meets three times a week after work to practice 14 hymns that will be sung in English and Latin during the Mass.

Evening mass at the Cathedral of our Lady of Arabia in Manama on October 19. Khushnum Bhandari / The National

“We are all thrilled that our beloved Pope Francis has come to visit our lovely country," said Mr Braganza, 62, an Indian civil engineer.

"And what is beautiful is that he comes with a message of peace and this is the message we want to convey through our singing.”

'Dream come true'

For Cameroonian Gam Jean, it is the biggest moment in his life.

“It is my life-time achievement to sing at this Mass,” said the 43-year-old hotel concierge who lends his tenor voice to the choir.

“Just to stand there is a dream come true, to sing songs I have been taught and celebrate that Mass, all this means a lot.”

School teacher and soprano Mary Angeline has lived in Bahrain for 30 years, and says being part of the Mass is a blessing.

“To me it’s a gift, a blessing for peace,” said the 66-year-old from the Philippines.

“We are 80,000 Catholics in this country and it will give the community such a boost.”

For many, it is a time for healing and overcoming the loss of loved ones.

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The pope is an inspiration because he is humble. Although he has reached such heights, he touches every common man’s heart
Olivia Braganza

Olivia Braganza, a choir member and wife of the choir conductor, recently lost her mother.

The couple were by her mother’s side in the intensive care unit when they received a message from the parish priest to get a 100-strong choir ready.

“We didn’t know at that time it was for the pope and what a big task this would be,” said the 56-year-old who sings alto.

“All we could do was pray for my mother and now, being in the choir for the Mass is like a prayer for her.

“The pope is an inspiration because he is humble. Although he has reached such heights, he touches every common man’s heart like when he blesses special [needs] children in the audience.”

Young children have prepared banners to welcome the pope.

“I want to take his blessing. He will ask me, ‘Do you like God,’” said Savion Pinto, 10.

He and his friends Jeff Fernandes, Evanka Sequeira and Honal Castelino, aged 4 to 5, have made placards with the pope’s photo inscribed with the words: "A little bit of mercy makes the world less cold and more just."

For many it is a moment of celebration, Charlene Andrade turns 25 a day before she sings at the Mass.

She will spend the early hours of November 5 queuing for a bus that will take the faithful from the Bahrain International Circuit to the stadium as part of strict security measures in place.

“I was making birthday plans, but after I heard the pope is coming that was all I needed,” she said.

“This will be my best birthday ever to be part of the Papal Mass.”

The Indian citizen, born and raised in Bahrain, is one of millions of papal followers and follows him on social media and reads his Sunday gospel teaching every week.

“He speaks of peace and this country has taught me unity,” said Ms Andrade, a special needs educator in a Manama school.

“This is our home away from home. We have grown up in a parish with different communities so you never feel isolated but united with different nationalities.”

Updated: October 24, 2022, 6:48 AM