As Pope Francis prepares to depart for Bahrain on 3-6 November, the Director of the Holy See Press Office offers an overview of the Pope’s 39th Apostolic Journey abroad, which aims to strengthen interreligious dialogue and encourage local Catholics.
Pope Francis returns to the Middle East on 3-6 November for the second time in a few short years for a visit to the Kingdom of Bahrain.
His 39th Apostolic Journey abroad brings him to his 58th country visited as Pope.
At a press conference at the Holy See Press Office on Friday 28 October, Matteo Bruni offered reporters an overview of the papal visit.
The Director of the Holy See Press Office pointed out that Pope Francis will be the first Pope to visit Bahrain.
Step along path of interfaith encounter
He said the papal visit will focus on the twin themes of “encounter” and “encouragement” for Catholics in the region.
Pope Francis will attend the closing ceremony of the first-ever “Bahrain Forum for Dialogue: East and West for Human Coexistence”, which will see around 200 interfaith leaders gathered to promote fraternity.
As the Pope encounters religious leaders, his historic signing of the Document on Human Fraternity in 2019 in Abu Dhabi will form the background for continuing to improve interfaith relations.
“The visit represents a precious step along the path of fraternity and interreligious dialogue,” said Mr. Bruni.
Mr. Bruni noted that war—both in Europe and in various countries—will form another backdrop to the Pope’s encounter with religious leaders.
The goal, he added, is to continue the search for allies in a common desire for peace in our world.
Pope Francis, noted Mr. Bruni, was invited to attend the Bahrain Forum and visit the Middle Eastern country by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.
Encouragement for Catholics in the region
Yet, the papal visit is not merely focused on interreligious dialogue.
As the shepherd of the Universal Church, Pope Francis travels to Bahrain to meet with the Catholic community, a majority of whom are foreign-born.
Of the roughly 80,000 Catholic faithful, around 1,000 Catholics are Bahraini citizens, making it one of the few Gulf states to have a local Christian population.
Most Catholics are expatriate workers hailing from India, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka, as well as Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, and Jordan.
Of the Pope’s seven public encounters on the 4-day visit, four are meetings with various sanctions of the local Catholic Church, including young people, clergy and religious, and Catholics from neighboring countries.
As Pope Francis visits Bahrain next week, local Catholics and leaders of other religions await his words of hope and encouragement on the path to peace in our world currently marred by conflict.
With thanks to Vatican News and Devin Watkins, where this article originally appeared