Francis’ first visit to Bahrain to cement ties with Islam

3. Pope Bahrain
Pope Francis waves at the end of his weekly general audience at Saint Peter’s Square in the Vatican on October 26, 2022. (Photo: AFP)

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis will become the first pontiff in history to visit Bahrain, in a trip this week that is hoped will cement ties with Islam.اضافة اعلان

The Thursday-to-Sunday visit — the 39th international trip of Francis’ papacy — comes three years after his historic trip to the UAE in 2019, where he signed a Muslim-Christian manifesto for peace.

The Argentine pontiff, 85, has made outreach to Muslim communities a priority during his papacy, visiting Egypt in 2017 and Iraq last year while pledging high-level interfaith dialogue.

On Friday, Francis plans to meet with Sunni Islam’s highest authority, Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb, the grand imam of Cairo’s prestigious Al-Azhar mosque and center of Islamic learning, at Sakhir Palace in central Bahrain. 

The two religious leaders signed a joint document in Abu Dhabi in February 2019 pledging interfaith co-existence. That visit marked the first ever by a pope to the Gulf region, where Islam was born.

Francis will also meet with the Abu Dhabi-based Muslim Council of Elders for an “East and West” forum, with Muslim communities in the West, humanitarian crises, climate issues, and Muslim-Christian relations on the agenda.

Flocking to mass

On Saturday, the pope will celebrate a mass in a stadium in Bahrain’s second-largest city Riffa before an expected 28,000 faithful, according to priest Charbel Fayad.

“We are happy to see many Christians from the region,” he told AFP, saying he expected worshippers from other Gulf countries.

The pope — who concludes his trip Sunday in Manama leading a prayer meeting with Catholic clergy — has visited various Muslim-majority countries during his pontificate, including Jordan, Turkey, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bangladesh, Morocco, and most recently in September, Kazakhstan.

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