Bahrain welcomes ‘Father Pope’ for historic return to Gulf region
By Devin Watkins – Manama, Bahrain
Pope Francis arrives in the Kingdom of Bahrain on Thursday for a 4-day visit to shine the spotlight on the twin themes of interreligious dialogue and closeness to Christians living in the Muslim-majority nation.
“For Bahrain, this visit is very historic, because we have never had someone like the Pope come here in terms of promoting dialogue.”
Nivedita Dhadphale, a consultant with Bahrain’s National Communication Centre, offered that description of the Pope’s 39th Apostolic Journey abroad, on 3-6 November.
Open, welcoming society
Speaking to Vatican News in Bahrain, Ms. Dhadphale said the country has a “long history of churches and places of worship of different religions.”
The British-Bahraini communications expert has spent the last 30 years in Bahrain, but she still remembers being struck when she saw that Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, was celebrated openly, as well as public displays of Christmas decorations.
Relations among various religions, said Ms. Dhadphale, who is of Indian origin and professes Hinduism, goes beyond tolerance of the beliefs of others.
“It’s like an extended family that just has a different belief or a different faith,” she noted.
As part of his visit, Pope Francis will attend the closing session of the “Bahrain Forum for Dialogue: East-West Dialogue for Human Coexistence"” on Friday, along with around 200 leaders of various faiths.
The people of Bahrain—both Christians and Muslims—have a particular name for Pope Francis.
“Baba Pope” they call him, or “Father Pope”, after the Arabic word for “Father”, said Ms. Dhadphale, adding that he is never referred to as just “Pope”.
“I think it’s very endearing, but it’s also very respectful. It gives him the respect he deserves,” she said. “It’s the local Bahrainis calling him Baba Pope.
On Thursday, the local papers in Bahrain were filled with pictures of Pope Francis with King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. Headlines focused on the interreligious dialogue aspect of his visit.
“They are very excited about him coming,” said Ms. Dhadphale, “because he represents something very important.”
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