Pope Francis departs from Rome for Bahrain visit

Pontiff expected in Manama on Thursday late afternoon

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Follow the latest news on Pope Francis's visit to Bahrain

Pope Francis’s landmark visit to Bahrain will carry the message that people can be builders of peace and focus on the urgent need for dialogue.

The Pope departed Rome on Thursday for a four-day visit, making it the second to the Gulf in three years for the head of the Roman Catholic Church.

It signals encouragement and support for the region's Catholic community that awaits his words of hope and healing.

Before leaving for the Gulf on an ITA Airways flight, the Pope on Tuesday asked thousands of worshippers gathered at St Peter’s Square in Rome on All Saints Day to pray for the success of the visit.

Pope Francis addresses the crowd during prayer at the Vatican on November 1. AFP

“I ask everyone to accompany me with prayer, so that every meeting and event might be a fruitful opportunity to promote, in the name of God, the cause of fraternity and peace, which our times so desperately and urgently need,” he said.

He made mention of the Bahrain Forum for Dialogue, at which he will speak on Friday.

“It will be a journey under the banner of dialogue thematising the inescapable need for the East and West to come together for the cause of peace,” he said.

The Pope’s arrival in the Gulf is being closely watched after the massive welcome he received in the UAE in 2019 on the first papal journey to the region.

He will also meet Dr Ahmed Al Tayeb, Grand Imam of Al Azhar, on Friday and address a meeting of members of the Muslim Council of Elders.

The Pope will pray for peace at the Our Lady of Arabia Cathedral, the largest in the region, with members of Christian churches.

He will lead a public Mass at the Bahrain National Stadium on Saturday morning and meet parish workers at the Sacred Heart Church in Manama, the Gulf’s oldest.

The pope called for peace for the people of Ukraine, a call he has often made since war broke out in February.

“Dear brothers and sisters, let us not forget martyred Ukraine,” he said. “Let us pray that there might be peace in Ukraine.’

The stage is prepared at the Bahrain National Stadium for the Pope's visit to the kingdom. AFP

In Bahrain, parishioners have been ending each Mass by praying for Pope Francis’s safety and good health.

Worshippers in two Catholic churches repeat the verses: “We entrust him to your fatherly care, that as he makes his journey to Bahrain, he will travel in peace and joy.”

Fr Xavier D’Souza, parish priest of the Manama church, said the mood was of excitement.

His message to parishioners was, “to make the papal journey a blessing to the people of Bahrain and to the whole world, dispensing far and wide a prophetic call to promote peace and justice to the people of goodwill”.

There are about 80,000 Catholics in Bahrain. More than 1,500 of them are Bahraini citizens, counting it among a few Gulf states with a local Christian population.

Most Catholics are expatriate workers from India, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Syria and Lebanon.

Ric Advincula, president of the Filipino Club, has seen the Pope celebrate Mass at the Vatican and says being part of prayers in Bahrain would be an unforgettable experience.

“We are blessed and lucky to live in the Middle East where the head of the church will visit,” said Mr Advincula, who works as an executive assistant for an insurance company.

“I’m so proud this historic and significant visit will be in Bahrain that is my second home and that I will be at the Mass.”

About 28,000 people are expected to pack into the Bahrain National Stadium several hours before the Pope delivers the Mass on Saturday.

The majority of seats have been set aside for Bahrain’s Catholic community and the remainder will be filled by worshippers from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE, Oman and Kuwait.

For Manama resident Felcy Fernandes, it is a special moment.

She was a newborn when Pope John Paul II visited her birthplace of Mangalore, in southern India, in 1986.

“Everyone wants to be part of the visit in some way,” she said.

“We feel even more connected to our faith with his visit. We want to spread his message of peace and joy.”

Updated: November 03, 2022, 2:27 PM