About 30,000 flag-waving worshippers joined an open-air mass held by Pope Francis in mainly Muslim Bahrain on Saturday, the highlight of his outreach mission to the Gulf. Some of the congregation had tears in their eyes as they waited to see the 85-year-old at Bahrain National Stadium, the kingdom’s biggest venue.
Francis, who uses a wheelchair and walking stick due to knee problems, smiled and waved to the crowds from an open-sided popemobile where he was seated, flanked by more than a dozen suited security guards and attendants. As a 100-strong, multinational choir sang in multiple languages, the Argentine stood to kiss children lifted up to greet him in the specially adapted vehicle, which drove slowly towards a white stage backdropped by a giant gold cross.
“This very land is 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 said in an address.
The pope, who has made outreach to Islam a pillar of his papacy, is on his second visit to the resource-rich Gulf, the cradle of Islam. During his 2019 trip to the United Arab Emirates, he led a mass for 170,000 people and signed a Christian-Muslim manifesto for peace. He has spent much of his four-day Bahrain trip meeting top officials and religious figures, but for Catholics in the tiny island nation, including many migrant workers, Saturday’s mass was the high point.—Agencies