Pope Francis delights the small Catholic community in the Gulf with a great mass
AWALI, Bahrain, Nov 5 (Reuters) – Pope Francis celebrated mass for thousands of Catholics in Bahrain on Saturday, cheering members of the small foreign Catholic community from across the Gulf and urging them to show kindness to their hosts, even if they sometimes feel bad treated.
The crowd of around 30,000 that filled Bahrain’s National Stadium was the second-largest gathering for a papal Mass in the Arabian Peninsula, after more than 100,000 in the United Arab Emirates in 2019.
“This is a miracle,” said Mary Grace Fortes, 36, a Filipina who works at the front desk of a hotel in Bahrain. “So important to us.”
Like many Filipino women who work outside their country, Fortes is married and sends money home to help support her family, including her husband and 16-year-old son.
Hundreds of Catholic foreign workers were bussed across the 25 km (16 miles) King Fahd Road that connects Bahrain to Saudi Arabia, where there are no churches and where Catholics cannot pray openly.
“The Bahrainis arranged everything perfectly for us,” said Jos Chazoor, 53, who is from Kerala, India and works as a manager for a medical equipment company in Saudi Arabia.
Chazoor’s 75-year-old mother was too overcome with emotion to answer reporters’ questions shortly before the pope arrived at the packed stadium to a rapturous welcome from the faithful waving yellow and white Vatican flags.
“She is too thrilled to talk,” said Chazoor, who drives regularly from Saudi Arabia with his mother to attend mass at one of Bahrain’s two churches, which provide pastoral care for Bahrain’s roughly 160,000 Catholics.
In his homily, Francis appeared to praise Bahrain’s relatively open policy towards non-Muslims.
“It is this country that is a living picture of coexistence in diversity, and actually a picture of our world, which is increasingly marked by constant migration of peoples and pluralism of ideas, customs and traditions,” he said.
Foreign workers, many of them from Asia, form the backbone of Gulf economies, working in sectors such as construction, hospitality, transport and the oil and gas sector.
The International Labor Organization says migrant workers from the Gulf have long faced problems, including exploitation by recruitment agencies and employers, poor working conditions, limited access to justice and limited or no freedom of association.
Francis urged his listeners to be kind even to those native people in the Gulf region who do not treat them well, saying this is central to the Gospel message of loving one’s enemies.
He said that we should always “persist in good even when evil is done to us, breaking the spiral of revenge, disarming violence, demilitarizing the heart.”
As Francis drove through the crowds on the stadium field in an open-top popemobile just before Mass began, a speaker on the altar platform shouted “God bless the pope, God bless the royal family.”
A Bahraini government spokesman said 111 nationalities attended the mass in the island nation, where foreigners make up about half of Bahrain’s population of roughly 1.5 million.
The prayers of the faithful during the mass were read in the languages spoken by the foreign workers, including Tagalog, Swahili, Malayalam, Tamil and Konkani.
The mass was attended by one of the sons of King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and several government ministers.
Additional reporting by Ghaida Ghantous in Dubai; Editing by Michael Perry and Mark Potter
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