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ROME – Pope Francis celebrated Mass for Catholics in Bahrain Saturday, telling attendees of the liturgy to always act with love and fraternity, even amid difficult and oppressive situations, as this is the only real path to peace.
Speaking during his Nov. 5 Mass, the pope said Jesus suffers when he looks at the world and sees ways of exercising power “that feed on oppression and violence, seeking to expand their own space by restricting that of others, imposing their own domination and restricting basic freedoms, and in this way oppressing the weak.”
Conflict, disagreement, and oppression will always be present, Pope Francis said, saying Jesus’s own response to these situations is to ask his disciples to “remain always, faithfully, in love, despite everything, even in the face of evil and our enemy.”
While a human reaction seeks revenge, Jesus shows a different and seemingly “unthinkable” way, which is to turn the other cheek, he said, adding, “That is what the Lord asks of us.”
“Not to dream idealistically of a world of fraternity,” he said, “but to choose, starting with ourselves, to practice universal fraternity, concretely and courageously, persevering in good even when evil is done to us, breaking the spiral of vengeance, disarming violence, demilitarizing the heart.”
Pope Francis celebrated Mass at Bahrain National Stadium in Awali on his third day in Bahrain, offering special greetings to faithful who came from the four countries that make up the Apostolic Vicariate of Northern Arabia – Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia – as well as those who came from other Gulf countries, and elsewhere.
In his homily, Francis, who is the first pope to visit Bahrain, said the secret to Jesus’s power does not come from “the force of violence, but from the weakness of love.”
Jesus’s strategy in any situation, even conflict, is “To love always and to love everyone,” he said. “Not only when things are going well and we feel like loving, but always. Not only towards our friends and neighbors, but towards everyone, including our enemies.”
This vision is not theoretical, but practical, Francis said, noting that Jesus “does not say it will be easy,” but is “realistic” and knows that “within our relationships there is a daily struggle between love and hatred.”
“Within our hearts too, there is a daily clash between light and darkness. He also knows that, for all our generous efforts, we do not always receive the good we expect and indeed sometimes, incomprehensibly, we suffer evil,” he said.
Yet regardless of the situation, whether it be in society, the workplace or the family, Christians are invited to respond with love, he said, saying, “There will be cases of friction, moments of tension, conflicts, and opposing viewpoints, but those who follow the Prince of Peace must always strive for peace.”
“Peace cannot be restored if a harsh word is answered with an even harsher one, if one slap leads to another,” the pope said, saying “we need to ‘disarm,’ to shatter the chains of evil, to break the spiral of violence, and to put an end to resentment, complaints and self-pity. We need to keep loving, always.”
Pope Francis also stressed the need not just to love, but to love everyone, saying the decision to love does not go far enough “if we restrict this commitment to the close circle of those who love us, who are our friends, or who are like us.”
What Jesus asks, he said, is “is amazing because it transcends the boundaries of law and common sense.”
“Loving our neighbor, those close to us, though reasonable, is exhausting enough. In general, this is what a community or a people tries to do to preserve its internal peace,” he said. However, “what happens if those who are far distant approach us, if foreigners, who are different or hold other beliefs, become our neighbors?”
Given its diverse population and many different ethnic and religious traditions, Bahrain, the pope said, is an example of “coexistence in diversity,” and a living reflection of the world, “marked by the constant migration of peoples and by a pluralism of ideas, customs and traditions.”
“If we want to be children of the Father and build a world of brothers and sisters, the real challenge is to learn how to love everyone, even our enemies,” the pope said.
In concrete practice, this means “choosing not to have enemies, choosing to see in others not an obstacle to be overcome, but a brother or sister to be loved,” he said, adding, “To love our enemies is to make this earth a reflection of heaven.”
Calling the ability to love this way a gift from God, Pope Francis urged faithful to pray for this grace, saying, “So often we bring our requests before the Lord, but what is essential for us as Christians is to know how to love as Christ loves.”
Francis closed his homily thanking those who traveled to attend the liturgy and assured the Catholic community in the region of “the affection and closeness of the universal Church, which looks to you and embraces you, which loves you and encourages you.”
Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen