Bishop Hinder: Pope’s Bahrain visit shows care of entire Church
By Devin Watkins
Pope Francis sets off on Thursday for his 39th Apostolic Journey abroad, which takes him to the Kingdom of Bahrain on 3-6 November.
He is returning to the Gulf for the second time in just over 3 years to strength the faith of local Catholics and to give interreligious dialogue another boost, according to Bishop Paul Hinder, OFM Cap.
The Apostolic Administrator of Northern Arabia said the papal visit shows that the region is not forgotten.
Ecumenical visit to region
Speaking to Vatican News’ Mario Galgano, the Swiss-born Bishop noted that around 80,000 Catholics live in Bahrain, most of whom are migrant workers.
Bishop Hinder also said he considers the Pope’s Apostolic Journey as a visit to the Church in the entire Gulf region, since many Catholics there share a similar reality as a “migrant Church.”
Most Catholics hail from India, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka, as well as from elsewhere in the Middle East such as Lebanon and Syria.
Pope Francis received a personal invitation to Bahrain from King Hamad bin Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa, as well as from Bishop Hinder on the part of the local Church.
Encouraging Catholics in a special situation
Regarding the purpose of the papal visit, Bishop Hinder offered the twin goals of ecumenism and encouragement.
“One is certainly to maintain and to deepen the interfaith dialogue with Muslims, not only the Sunnis, but also the Shiites and other currents within the Muslim world,” he said. “And on the other side to give encouragement to the flock of Catholics and the Christians in general, but especially Catholics who live in this special situation.”
Bishop Hinder pointed out that the Pope will find a “multi-national, multi-lingustic Church” and a country with a culture that is very open to foreigners.
Nearness to Catholics in the region
Catholics from neighboring countries will also be taking part in Pope Francis’ public events in Bahrain, according to the Apostolic Administrator of Northern Arabia.
Organizers have even guaranteed around 2,000 places at Mass on Saturday for the faithful traveling from Saudi Arabia.
“That is not exceptional,” said Bishop Hinder, “because even now, at ordinary times, many faithful from Saudi Arabian neighborhood come over the bridge to participate in the Masses or other Sacraments in Bahrain.”
The Bishop added that the Pope’s visit will hopefully offer a “positive signal” to Saudi Arabia, which Bishop Hinder noted has changed greatly in the 18 years he has served in the region.
Culmination of years of service
Finally, the 80-year-old Bishop pointed out that he is nearing retirement, and so he considers this papal visit as a sort of fulfillment of his service.