The Pope holds an open-air mass for 30,000 believers in Bahrain

The Pope holds an open-air mass for 30,000 believers in Bahrain


The Pope holds an open-air mass for 30,000 believers in Bahrain

Manama (AFP) –

by Clement Melki and Layal Abou Rahal

About 30,000 flag-waving worshipers attended an open-air mass held by Pope Francis in mainly Muslim Bahrain on Saturday, the culmination of his mission to the Gulf.

Some of the community were in tears as they waited to see the 85-year-old at Bahrain’s National Stadium, the Kingdom’s largest venue.

Francis, who is confined to a wheelchair and cane due to knee problems, smiled and waved to the crowd from an open popemobile in which he sat, flanked by more than a dozen appropriate security guards and attendants.

As a 100-strong multinational choir sang in multiple languages, the Argentine stood to kiss children who greeted him in the popemobile, which slowly approached a white stage in front of a giant yellow cross.

The pope is on his second visit to the resource-rich Gulf – the cradle of Islam – after his 2019 trip to the United Arab Emirates, where he held a mass for 170,000.

“We’ve been here since one o’clock. We didn’t sleep,” said volunteer Philomina Abranches, 46, an Indian-born Bahrain resident.

“We’re so excited. We all call him ‘daddy’. More than anything, he represents peace in the world. That’s what we need now.”

Margerite Heida, 63, also a Bahrain resident, said: “Having Pope Francis as a guest is the best feeling. This is the biggest event of the year.”

Heida waited for her second look at the Pope.

“I saw him at church yesterday,” she said. “I’m lucky to see him. I was also able to hold his hand yesterday and got his blessing.”

Many believers came to catch a glimpse of the pope from the Gulf region, which is home to about two million Catholics, mostly expatriate workers from South Asia and the Philippines.

Everyone in the stadium was given a plastic bag containing a white baseball cap, a paper Vatican flag, a bottle of water, a booklet detailing the Mass, and some biscuits.

Pope Francis’ 39th foreign visit is largely aimed at building relationships with Muslim officials. On Friday he met the Grand Imam of Egypt’s Al-Azhar Mosque, one of the leading authorities on Sunni Islam, and members of the Muslim Council of Elders.

He also attended a service at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Arabia, the largest in the Arabian Peninsula, seating more than 2,000. Hundreds of migrant workers were part of the community that welcomed him.

Later on Saturday, Francis will be meeting children at Sacred Heart School.

On Sunday he is due to attend a prayer meeting at the 83-year-old Sacred Heart Church – the oldest in the region – before flying back to Rome.

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