Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin 

Parolin: Pope's visit to Bahrain a sign of unity, dialogue in a tragic moment of history

As Bahrain prepares to welcome Pope Francis on 3-6 November, Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin grants an interview to Vatican Media and expresses his gratitude to the King of Bahrain, Ḥamad bin ʿĪsā Āl Khalīfa, and the local Church for the invitation.

By Massimiliano Menichetti

The Pope will be in Bahrain from 3 to 6 November. He will visit the cities of Manama and Awali, where he will take part in the "Bahrain Forum for Dialogue: East and West for Human Coexistence". The main events include the Holy Mass at the Bahrain National Stadium and a meeting with young people at the Sacred Heart School.

Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, in an interview with L'Osservatore Romano and Vatican Radio-Vatican News, states that “in a world characterized by tensions, oppositions, and conflicts,” the Pope's visit and the events in Bahrain in which he will participate are "a message of unity, cohesion, and peace".

Q.  Your Eminence, Francis will be the first Pope to visit Bahrain. How did this visit come about?

The visit stems from an invitation that the King of Bahrain addressed to the Holy Father, first in a more informal manner and then concretized and formalized in a personal letter. And it also coincides with this Forum of Dialogue for Peaceful Coexistence. To the King's invitation was then added the invitation of the local Church, in the person of the apostolic administrator, Bishop Hinder. I would also like to take advantage of this interview preceding the Pope's visit to express my deep gratitude to the King and the Bahraini authorities, as well as to the Church of Bahrain, for this invitation and for the preparations they are making in view of the Holy Father's arrival, [and] for the welcome they will give him.

The interview with Cardinal Parolin on the Pope's visit to Bahrain
The interview with Cardinal Parolin on the Pope's visit to Bahrain

Q.  The Pope will take part in the concluding phase of the Forum dedicated to dialogue for human coexistence between East and West: what message does he want to communicate in a world context like the present one?

I think the message coming out of this Forum and the Holy Father's participation is quite clear. It is a sign of unity at a particularly delicate, complex, and in some ways tragic moment in our history. It is an invitation to dialogue, an invitation to encounter between East and West, in a reality, such as that of Bahrain, which is a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, and multi-religious reality; hence the ability to live together, the ability to collaborate even in a composite reality such as that which characterizes that country.

There will also be, on that same occasion, two meetings, one of the Muslim Council of Elders — which is an organization representing Muslim religious leaders who are committed to dialogue and respect for religions — and then also an ecumenical meeting where many representatives from different countries will converge. But the signal is always the same: in a world characterized by tensions, by contrasts, by conflicts, [it is] a message of unity, of cohesion, of peace.

Q. The Pope's presence at the Forum brings back memories of Abu Dhabi, of the Document on Human Fraternity: For World Peace and Living Together. That text reiterates, in continuity with the Magisterium of the Popes, that the name of God may never be used to justify violence and war. What relevance does this message have today?

It seems to me that it has great topicality and it is a bit of a “red thread” that connects all the trips that the Pope has made to those countries; let us remember the last one to Kazakhstan. But we can also go back to the trip he made to Iraq, for example, last year, or before that to the Arab Emirates, Morocco, Egypt, Azerbaijan.

And this red thread is simply to say that between God and hatred, between religion and violence, there is an absolute incompatibility, there is an impossibility of any contact and any conciliation, because whoever accepts hatred and violence distorts the very nature of religion.

And above all in Kazakhstan, the Pope insisted on two points that I think it is important to take up here: on the one hand, purification, that is, there is always also the temptation to manipulate religion and to use it at times for purposes that are not religious, [and] therefore for purposes of power, for purposes of oppression. So the Pope invites this profound purification. And at the same time to unite together: truly, religions can work together in this sense, precisely to eliminate any misunderstanding, so that religion always becomes a factor of reconciliation, a factor of peace, a factor of cohesion, and harmony.

Q. Inclusion and respect for human life are paths always invoked and witnessed by the Pope: what significance do they have for this trip to Bahrain?

They have the same meaning as always. The Pope interprets the profound expectations of so many people who do not see their rights respected, their fundamental rights to life, to inclusion, to sharing in the earth's goods. And so, here too, the Pope will be the voice of the voiceless and will go out to meet the people who are, in a certain sense, on the peripheries. It seems to me, however, that these values are proclaimed in the very Constitution of the country, which speaks of avoiding any discrimination on the basis of any characteristic.

Q. In Bahrain the main religion is Islam; Catholics are a small minority. How are relations between the Holy See and this Gulf country?

Yes, that's right, in Bahrain, Islam is the religion of the State and Sharia is the main source of law. The Christian community makes up about ten per cent of that population and there are between 80 and 100 thousand Catholics. Relations with the Holy See were established in 2000 and I think they are good. On the part of the State authorities, there has always been respect and cooperation with Catholics, both the faithful and the Apostolic Vicar. The Pope's visit will also serve precisely to meet this community and to encourage it in its life and witness.

Q. The Pope will be in the cities of Manama and Avali. Here the Cathedral of Our Lady of Arabia was consecrated a year ago: the foundation stone of this church — a brick of the Holy Door of St. Peter's Basilica — was donated by Francis himself...

Yes, there is this very close bond through this symbolic stone that forms the foundation of this church. This church is important, it is important for the community, obviously, which needs places of worship where it can exercise, live its faith at the level of celebration.

But it is also important as a sign of that respect and attention, which I mentioned earlier, on the part of the country's authorities towards the Christian community. So it is a fine symbol, as well as a concrete reality, of what has been so far and what we hope will be even more the attitude towards the Christian community.

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31 October 2022, 14:00