A visitor take photo in front of welcome banner for Pope Francis at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Manama A visitor take photo in front of welcome banner for Pope Francis at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Manama 

Bishop Martinelli: Pope will find a Church with open doors in Bahrain

On the eve of Pope Francis’ Apostolic Journey to Bahrain, Bishop Paolo Martinelli, the Vicar Apostolic of Southern Arabia, says the Church in the Gulf region shows that many cultures can coexist in peace and bear witness to the joy of the Gospel.

By Devin Watkins

As Pope Francis departs on Thursday for his Apostolic Journey to the Kingdom of Bahrain, Bishop Paolo Martinelli, OFM Cap., the Vicar Apostolic of Southern Arabia, offers his perspective on the papal visit.

In a written interview with Vatican News, the Italian-born Bishop highlights the ecumenical aspect of the visit, as the Pope will take part in the closing ceremony of the Bahrain Forum for Dialogue, which will see over 200 leaders of various faiths gather to promote peace.

Listen to our report

Q: Pope Francis is returning to the Gulf for the second time in just a few short years after his visit to Abu Dhabi in 2019. What inspiration do Catholics in the region hope to draw from his visit?

For all the Catholics who live in the Gulf, this second visit by Pope Francis is a great event. The Abu Dhabi meeting in February 2019 had already brought a strong wind of hope. The Document on Human Fraternity signed by the Holy Father and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, was a cornerstone of the dialogue between people of different faiths. But it was also a document that pushed the religions to collaborate together for the creation of a more human and fraternal world. The Pope's new journey in the Gulf pushes us to deepen the positive coexistence between different peoples and religions and spurs us to be peacemakers.

This is a new step for interreligious dialogue. On the one hand, encounter is decisive to truly know each other as bearers of different spiritualities and religious traditions, to free ourselves from prejudices and stereotypes about various religions. On the other hand, the invitation to dialogue on fundamental anthropological experiences helps us promote a dialogue between people of different faiths on the human reality we have in common, on questions of meaning, on the common good, on daily relationships, on work, on love, life, and death. Encounter with those who are different can illuminate and suggest new aspects of one's own religion.

In this perspective, in many Gulf nations, it is really possible to build a peaceful coexistence that allows for the sharing of values and perspectives of peace. The world situation is truly worrying, but the Pope's visit to the Gulf inspires us not to be afraid and to work for the common good, to defend and promote the good of being together in diversity.

Q: What can you tell us about the Church in Arabia, where many Catholics and most priests are foreigners? How do those aspects make it unique?

The Church present in the Gulf countries is a Church of migrants. The lay faithful, consecrated persons, and priests are all from different nations and cultures. There are also many different rites. The image of the Church is that of a people of God made up of different peoples. The challenge is to live the pluriformity of the gifts in the unity of the one body of Christ.

Priests from the Philippines, India, Lebanon and many other countries form a unique presbyterium, and are called to serve not only the people of their own countries but all the people of God who live here. This Church rises pluriform; it is Her characteristic and her value.

I believe that precisely these characteristics make this Church important for the universal Church. To show how it is possible to be different and united at the same time, making differences a source of richness and not of division. Here it is easier to experience the universality of the Church. Our society is more and more mixed; the Church must show the beauty to be one and different as an example of coexistence.

Furthermore, it is a minority Church, as we are in countries with a large Muslim majority. Being a minority in the country helps us to live the faith with simplicity, aiming at the essentials, committing ourselves to be witnesses in the social life of the good life of the Gospel, and avoiding any form of proselytism.

Q: How would you describe the faith of the people in your Apostolic Vicariate? How does faith help them in their day-to-day struggles?

First of all, I would like to say that the people of God present in the Gulf are alive, they are young, and they are very active. People, in general, frequent the Church a lot and participate in Mass with joy. I see a lot of volunteering and a lot of willingness to work for the parishes, for example, as catechists.

But my major pastoral concern is to help the faithful to grow in faith and to understand how to translate what we live in the Church into daily life. We must always learn that Christians are those who live their daily life according to the mystery they celebrate in faith. In this sense, we must form an integral faith that is lived in daily relationships, in love, and in acceptance. It is important to increase the sense of belonging to the Church.

Being a migrant brings with it a request for acceptance, identity, and relationship. The Church must show itself as an open house for all. It is a question of bearing witness in the simplicity of daily life to the joy of the Gospel, the capacity of faith to make life more human and more beautiful.

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02 November 2022, 09:00