The apostolic administrator of Northern Arabia, Bishop Paul Hinder, OFM Cap, described the twin goals of the Papal visit to Bahrain as ecumenism and encouragement.
“One is certainly to maintain and to deepen the interfaith dialogue with Muslims, not only the Sunnis but also the Shiites and other currents within the Muslim world,” the Swiss-born Bishop said, “and on the other side to give encouragement to the flock of Catholics and the Christians in general, but especially Catholics who live in this special situation.”
Pope Francis is returning to the Gulf for the second time in just over 3 years to strengthen the faith of local Catholics and to give interreligious dialogue another boost, according to Bishop Paul Hinder.
Pope Francis is to travel on Thursday for his 39th Apostolic Journey abroad, which will be a visit to the Kingdom of Bahrain on 3-6 November.
“Why Bahrain? Because the place has traditionally been a good relationship between the government and the Churches. It's also an ecumenical visit to Bahrain.”
Bishop Hinder pointed out that the Pope will find a “multi-national, multi-linguistic Church” and a country with a culture that is very open to foreigners.
Pope Francis received a personal invitation to Bahrain from King Hamad bin Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa, as well as from Bishop Hinder on the part of the local Church.
The bishop described the Papal Apostolic Journey as a visit to the Church in the entire Gulf region since many Catholics there share a similar reality as a “migrant Church.”
Speaking to Vatican News’ Mario Galgano, the bishop noted that around 80,000 Catholics live in Bahrain, most of whom are migrant workers.
Most Catholics are from India, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka, as well as from elsewhere in the Middle East such as Lebanon and Syria.
The Apostolic Administrator of Northern Arabia said the papal visit shows that the region is not forgotten.
“We are in the heart, not only of the Pope but also in the heart of many faithful around the world, as they follow the visit.”
Catholics from neighbouring countries will also be taking part in Pope Francis’ public events in Bahrain, according to Bishop Hinder.
Organizers have even guaranteed around 2,000 places at Mass on Saturday for the faithful travelling from Saudi Arabia.
“That is not exceptional,” said Bishop Hinder, “because even now, at ordinary times, many faithful from Saudi Arabian neighbourhoods come over the bridge to participate in the Masses or other Sacraments in Bahrain.”
The bishop added that the Pope’s visit will hopefully offer a “positive signal” to Saudi Arabia which has changed greatly in the 18 years he has served in the region.
Finally, the 80-year-old Bishop pointed out that he is nearing retirement, and so he considers this papal visit as a sort of fulfilment of his service.
“This is a kind of culmination of my life here in Arabia. And I am so happy for our faithful during the time of my presence, and I appreciate our good experience and their welcome, shared journey of life, and their care.” - Vatican News
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