MANAMA: Pope Francis shifted gears Saturday in his visit to Bahrain to minister to the Gulf’s Catholic community, presiding over a huge open-air Mass and then meeting with young people to give them a bit of fatherly advice: Don’t just Google your questions about life decisions, he told them. Instead, find a parent, teacher or grandparent who can offer guidance.
After focusing on relations between Catholics and Muslims the first two days of his four-day visit to the tiny kingdom, Francis on Saturday was treated to the multiethnic diversity of the Gulf region’s Catholic community. It’s made up mostly of South Asian migrant workers who often leave behind their families to work in construction, oil extraction, domestic and service industries.
An estimated 30,000 people, some traveling from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other Gulf countries, packed the Bahrain national stadium for Francis’ big Mass. The English-language liturgy was clearly geared toward the foreign workers, with popular English hymns and prayers in Malay, Tagalog and Tamil and a priest offering English translations of the pope’s native Spanish homily.
“This is actually a very huge honor,” said Bijoy Joseph, an Indian living in Saudi Arabia who attended. “This is like a blessing for us to be part of our Holy Father’s papal Mass in Bahrain.”
Francis is on the first-ever papal visit to Bahrain, a Sunni-led island kingdom the size of New York City that lies off the coast of Saudi Arabia. The primary aim was to participate in a government-sponsored interfaith conference to promote Catholic-Muslim dialogue. But for the final two days, he focused on ministering to the Catholic community, a minority in the country of around 1.5 million.
In his homily at the stadium, Francis urged the Catholic faithful to do good “even when evil is done to us.”
“There will be cases of friction, moments of tension, conflicts and opposing viewpoints, but those who follow the Prince of Peace must always strive for peace. And peace cannot be restored if a harsh word is answered with an even harsher one,” he said. “No, we need to ‘disarm,’ to shatter the chains of evil, to break the spiral of violence, and to put an end to resentment, complaints and self-pity.”
After the Mass, Francis met with several hundred young people at the Sacred Heart school, which dates from the 1940s and is affiliated with the church of the same name that was the first Catholic church built in the Gulf. The school boasts more than 1,200 students and faculty from 29 different nationalities and a variety of faith groups, including Muslims studying alongside Christians.
Teen-age girls in saris danced for him, alumni offered testimonies and students offered words or wishes to him in over a dozen languages.
Francis urged them to forge a future where such friendly interfaith relations remain the norm. And then he offered some personal advice, saying he too was once an adolescent and never made a big decision alone.
“Before you go to the internet for advice, always seek out good counselors in life, wise and reliable people who can guide and help you,” he said, listing parents, grandparents or a spiritual guide.
And then revisiting an exhortation from one of his first meetings with young people as pope, Francis urged the students to always keep adults on their toes.
“We need your creativity, your dreams and your courage, your charm and your smiles, your contagious joy and that touch of craziness that you can bring to every situation,” he said. Such craziness, he said, “helps to break us out of our stale habits and repetitive ways of looking at things.”
Francis wraps up his visit Sunday meeting with priests and nuns at the Sacred Heart church.