Pope Bahrain
Pope Francis, flanked by Ahmed Al-Tayeb, Grand Imam of al-Azhar, and Bahrain's King Hamad Bin Eisa Al Khalifa as they attend the closing session of the "Bahrain Forum for Dialogue: East and west for Human Coexistence", at the Al-Fida square at the Sakhir Royal palace, Bahrain, Friday, Nov. 4, 2022 Image Credit: AP

Pope Francis joined leading Muslim, Christian and Jewish faith leaders on Friday in Bahrain to call for promoting tolerance and religious freedom. The head of the catholic church called the world’s great religions work to together for peace, telling an interfaith summit that religion must never be used to justify violence and that faith leaders must counter the ‘childlike’ whims of the powerful to make war.

On his second day in the Kingdom of Bahrain, Francis closed out a conference on East-West dialogue sponsored by King Hamad Bin Eisa Al Khalifa. It was his second such conference in as many months, following one in Kazakhstan, evidence of Francis’ core belief that moments of encounter among people of different faiths can help heal today’s conflicts and promote a more just and sustainable world.

Sitting around him in the Sakhir royal palace grounds was Bahrain’s King Hamad Bin Eisa Al Khalifa and noted Islamic scholars, the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, and US rabbis.

The Pope told the august gathering that, while the world seems to be heading apart like two opposing seas, the mere presence of religious leaders together was evidence that they “intend to set sail on the same waters, choosing the route of encounter rather than that of confrontation.’”

Pope Francis at the Sakhir Palace, in Sakhir, south of Manama, Bahrain. Image Credit: Reuters

Striking paradox

“It is a striking paradox that, while the majority of the world’s population is united in facing the same difficulties, suffering from grave food, ecological and pandemic crises, as well as an increasingly scandalous global injustice, a few potentates are caught up in a resolute struggle for partisan interests,” the Pope said.

“We appear to be witnessing a dramatic and childlike scenario: in the garden of humanity, instead of cultivating our surroundings, we are playing instead with fire, missiles and bombs, weapons that bring sorrow and death, covering our common home with ashes and hatred,” he added.

The visit is Francis’ second to a Gulf country, following his 2019 landmark trip to the UAE, where he signed a document promoting interfaith fraternity with a leading Islamic cleric, Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb, the grand imam of Al-Azhar.

Dr. Ahmed Al-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar and Chairman of the Muslim Council of Elders Image Credit: AP

Al-Tayeb’s call for dialogue

In his address, Al-Tayeb reiterated the importance of shunning negativity and discord. “Let us together chase away any talk of hate, provocation and excommunication and set aside ancient and modern conflict in all its forms and with all its negative offshoots,” he said.

Al-Tayeb, who is one of the world’s leading Islamic scholars, took this opportunity to call for a dialogue between the Islam’s two main currents — Sunnis and Shiites. His remarks were aimed at promoting religious harmony.

“I ... call on my brothers, Muslim scholars, across the world of every doctrine, sect and school of thought to hold an Islamic dialogue,” Al-Tayeb added.

He noted that the senior scholars at Al-Azhar and the Muslim Council of Elders are ready to host a meeting “so we can sit down together on one round-table to put aside our differences and strengthen our Islamic unity”.

A ceremonial band plays music as Pope Francis and King Hamad leave the venue after the welcome ceremony.
A ceremonial band plays music as Pope Francis and King Hamad leave the venue after the welcome ceremony. Image Credit: Gulf News

More on Bahrain Forum for Dialogue

Pope’s Bahrain schedule

Francis opened his visit to Bahrain on Thursday by highlighting the country’s tradition of religious tolerance. The country is home to several Christian communities as well as a small Jewish community.

In his remarks to the forum, US Rabbi Marc Schneier, who has long worked to promote Jewish-Muslim understanding and serves as Al Khalifa’s special adviser on interfaith matters, praised Bahrain as a ``role model for coexistence and tolerance of different faith communities.’’

The 85-year-old pope, who walks with a cane since he tore a ligament in his knee early this year, moved around using a wheelchair at the conference.

During the Nov. 3-6 trip, Francis is bringing his message of dialogue to Bahrain’s Christian leaders too with plans of an ecumenical meeting and peace prayer at the Our Lady of Arabia Cathedral, the largest Catholic Church in the Gulf.

On Saturday, Francis will lead mass at Bahrain’s national stadium before a crowd of nearly 30,000 people, where workers on Wednesday were adding finishing touches, including a giant gold cross above Francis’ chair.

About 2,000 spots will be saved for Catholics arriving from Saudi Arabia, Bishop Paul Hinder, the apostolic administrator for the vicariate of Northern Arabia, told media.

Francis will preside over a prayer meeting with Catholic clergy and others on Sunday before flying back to Rome.