LIVE UPDATES: Pope's landmark visit to Bahrain
Celebrating a public Mass with 28,000 people at the Bahrain National Stadium on Saturday, the Pope sent out a message to the faithful that “great power does not come from the force of violence, but from love”.
The leader of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics is on his second visit to the Gulf region and will be in Manama until Sunday.
In his homily that he delivered to an emotional crowd, the Pope spoke of the daily clash between light and darkness, and urged people to choose reconciliation over revenge in daily relationships and in dealings with the world.
“A purely human reaction would restrict us to seeking ‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,’ but that would be to exact justice by using the same weapons of evil used on us,” the pontiff said in Italian, urging people to turn the other cheek.
His homily was focused on peace as he repeated the message that friction and conflict could be resolved with kindness.
“And peace cannot be restored if a harsh word is answered with an even harsher one, if one slap leads to another. No, we need to disarm, to shatter the chains of evil, to break the spiral of violence, and to put an end to resentment, complaints and self-pity,” he said.
“We need to keep loving, always.”
The Pope spoke of Bahrain as a “living image of coexistence in diversity, and indeed an image of our world, increasingly marked by the constant migration of peoples and by a pluralism of ideas, customs and traditions”.
He asked the faithful to break the confines of family, friends and the nation in spreading the message of coexistence.
“What happens if those who are far distant approach us, if foreigners, who are different or hold other beliefs, become our neighbours?” he said.
The Pope thanked people from around the world for being part of the Mass. The thousands who gathered for the Mass had queued up before 2am to get on buses that brought them to the stadium.
The majority of people were from Bahrain, close to 3,000 were from Saudi Arabia, 140 from Qatar, 470 from Kuwait, 190 from Oman and the UAE, and 400 from the rest of the world.
“Dear brothers and sisters, today I thank you for your gentle and joyful witness to fraternity, for your being seeds of love and peace in this land,” the Pope said.
“Such is the challenge that the Gospel presents every day to our Christian communities and to each of us.
“To you, to all who have come for this celebration from the four countries of the Apostolic Vicariate of Northern Arabia — Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and other countries of the Gulf, and from elsewhere — I bring today the affection and closeness of the universal church, which looks to you and embraces you, which loves you and encourages you.”
Bishop Paul Hinder, the former Apostolic Vicar for Southern Arabia, thanked the Pope for his visit.
“It shows your pastoral care for a tiny church in a tiny country, but a church full of vitality,” he said.
He mentioned the Pope’s meeting with Muslim leaders in Bahrain and other countries so communities could better understand each other.
“You are not afraid to build bridges with the Muslim world and to show your fraternal closeness to all people of goodwill regardless of their cultural background and religious belief,” he said.
Yellow flags of the Vatican and red and white flags of Bahrain fluttered outside the stadium with banners with the papal theme ‘Peace on Earth to people of goodwill’.
Inside the stadium, families with young children took their place near the path that the Pope mobile would pass. For Judy Hivon, the moment holds hope.
Ms Hivon was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011 and the cancer returned two years ago.
She underwent chemotherapy a day earlier but would not miss being at the Mass.
“Who would miss this? Even him passing by us would mean a lot,” she said.
“If this is my last day, I’m happy that Pope Francis is here.”
Albert Pais from India, visiting his daughter Kathy Pais in Bahrain, was delighted to make it to the Mass with his wife Shalet and son David, who has Down syndrome.
“Being in a Muslim country and the Pope coming here is a great thing and it’s a blessing for his country also and for the Middle East,” he said.
“It’s a great moment for everybody, for this kingdom for the people of Bahrain and for me.”
His four-year-old granddaughter Eva George waved the Vatican flag and showed no signs of tiredness.
The family had left home at 3am and arrived at the stadium at 4.30am.
“I’m going to pray,” said Eva when asked what she would do when she saw the Pope.