ROME — Pope Francis’s upcoming trip to Bahrain blends three of his top priorities as pope: Ministering to a tiny Catholic community, promoting dialogue with the Muslim world and fostering relations with other Christian communities, according to details released Thursday by the Vatican.
The Nov. 3-6 visit will mark Francis’ second trip to the Gulf, his second to a majority Muslim nation in as many months and his second to participate in an interfaith gathering sponsored by someone other than the Vatican to promote dialogue among people of different faiths.
Just as he did in Kazakhstan last month, when Francis participated in an interfaith peace conference, the 85-year-old pope is set to close out the Bahrain Forum for Dialogue: East and West for Human Coexistence.
In doing so, he will become the first pope to visit Bahrain. Francis’ landmark visit to Abu Dhabi in 2019 made him first pope to visit the Arabian Peninsula.
On the sidelines of the conference, Francis plans to meet again with Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, the grand imam of Al-Azhar, the seat of Sunni learning in Cairo, as well as the Muslim council of elders.
In 2019, Francis and al-Tayeb signed a document in Abu Dhabi pledging Catholic-Muslim cooperation to work for peace, a pact endorsed by Bahrain King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa as well as other Muslim leaders.
According to the Bahrain trip itinerary, Francis would also preside over an ecumenical prayer service in the desert town of Awali and minister on several occasions to the country’s small Catholic community.
Bahrain is home to the Gulf’s first Catholic Church, the Sacred Heart Church located in the capital Manama, as well as its biggest one, Our Lady of Arabia Cathedral, which opened last year in Awali.
Francis has acknowledged traveling is difficult for him now that uses a wheelchair and a cane to get around because of strained knee ligaments.
But he has pressed ahead with trips abroad that involve relatively little moving around and where he can promote his “Human Fraternity” initiative, seeing dialogue and occasions for encounter as a way to foster understanding even in times of conflict and war.