At 9:40 a.m. on Thursday, November 3, 2022, the papal flight, with Francis, members of his retinue and accredited journalists on board, departed Fiumicino airport for Awali Bahrain, where it landed at Sakhir Air Base at 4:45 p.m. (local time).
The pope alighted via the jet bridge and was welcomed by the King, His Majesty Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, the Crown Prince and Prime Minister, three other sons of the King and a grandson. From there they proceeded to the Royal Hall, where a brief private meeting took place, at the end of which members of the royal family and the pope briefly greeted the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, Ahmad Muhammad Al-Tayyeb.
Bahrain is a small island state, consisting of an archipelago of 33 islands off the east coast of Saudi Arabia and north of the Qatar peninsula in the Persian Gulf. Bahrain means “Kingdom of the Two Seas” in the Arabic language.
Its territory was an important crossroads for trade between Mesopotamia and India, inhabited by the Carmata, an Ismailite group belonging to the Shiite branch of Islam, who settled in eastern Arabia from the end of the 9th century. After coming under the dominion of the Portuguese, Persians, Turks and British, Bahrain finally gained independence in 1971. The new Constitution, promulgated on February 14, 2002, and revised in 2012, transformed the emirate into a constitutional monarchy, with an elected parliament of 40 members. It grants broad powers to the sovereign.
Today there are growing demands in society for greater political and social freedoms, fueling the long-standing tensions between the Shiite majority (representing around 46 percent of the population) and the Sunni ruling class (24 percent). The Arab Springs movements in Tunisia and Egypt resulted in 2011 in strong protest demonstrations, the so-called “pearl uprising,” against sectarian discrimination and calling for democratic reforms. The uprising was suppressed with the support of Saudi and Emirati troops. It had mobilized the country’s two religious groups, with the rioters accused by government media of being manipulated by neighboring Iran.
The country has strategic importance in the region’s politics, because not only is it located near the Strait of Hormuz, through which about 20 percent of the world’s oil passes, but it has been for decades a very important ally of the United States, which has a naval base there. This has involved the normalization of diplomatic relations with Israel, which was sanctioned on September 15, 2020, by the signing of the Abraham Accords, brokered by the United States under the Trump administration, and to which the United Arab Emirates is also a signatory.
Bahrain has maintained diplomatic relations with the Holy See since 1999. In 2014, King Hamad, on a visit to the Vatican, presented Pope Francis with a model of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Arabia, and also extended an invitation to the pontiff to visit the Kingdom. Hamad’s visit was followed, in 2020, by that of Crown Prince Salman and, on November 25, 2021, by that of Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed bin Mohammed al-Khalifa, the king’s adviser on diplomatic affairs, who handed the pope an official letter of invitation to visit Bahrain. On that occasion, through his envoy, King Hamad also expressed to the pontiff his adherence to the Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Life Together, signed by Pope Francis on February 4, 2019, in Abu Dhabi, on the occasion of his visit to the United Arab Emirates, together with the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar. The “East and West for Human Coexistence” Dialogue Forum attended by the pope, by Sheikh al-Tayyeb himself, along with other high-profile religious figures, reflected this same spirit.
The apostolic journey to Bahrain is connected to the recent ones to Morocco, the United Arab Emirates, Iraq and Kazakhstan, and also, in its own way, to earlier ones to Turkey, Azerbaijan and Bangladesh. The connecting thread is dialogue with the vast Muslim world. The trip to Iraq – thanks to the meeting with the Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Al-Husayni Al-Sistani in the Shiite holy city of Najaf – became a work of rapprochement with the different currents within Islam and dialogue between them. Although the ruler in Bahrain is Sunni, the majority of the population is Shiite. The choice of Bahrain, among the countries of the region, is therefore also a strong signal sent to the Shiite world.
Bahrain, a ‘mosaic of life’
After the official welcome, the pontiff went to the Sakhir Royal Palace, the residence of the sovereign, which is located in the desert region of Sakhir, in western Bahrain. The palace is built according to traditional Islamic architecture and features bright white walls, large arches and columns, a dome, towers and an imposing minaret. The majlis of the palace – the hall where guests are received – is 12 meters long. Here Francis met the king. This was followed by the official welcoming ceremony in the courtyard, where political and religious authorities, the diplomatic corps and representatives of civil society were present, in all about 1,000 people.
Here the king gave a speech of welcome, to which Francis responded with an inclusive greeting, in which one could trace the fundamental value he attributes to citizenship, which unites all, beyond differences and tensions: “I would like to address a word of friendship and affection to everyone living in this country: to each believer and individual and to the members of every family, which the Constitution of Bahrain defines as ‘the basis of society’.”
The country, framed in the light of its roots in the past and the future that awaits it, is composed – said the pope – of “people from various backgrounds,” who form a “distinctive mosaic of life.” Indeed, historical events have enabled Bahrain “to take shape as a crossroads of mutual enrichment between peoples. One thing stands out in the history of this land: it has always been a place of encounter between different peoples.” Currently, about half of the resident population in Bahrain is foreign. The country has one of the highest immigration rates in the world.
The pope’s appeal became a heartfelt plea: “To the parched deserts of human coexistence let us bring the water of fraternity. May we never allow opportunities for encounter between civilizations, religions and cultures to evaporate, or the roots of our humanity to become desiccated and lifeless!” This is necessary especially in a world in which the worst side of man emerges. The pope also mentioned “the monstrous and senseless reality of war, which everywhere sows destruction and crushes hope.”
The pope, for a second time, made reference to the country’s Constitution, “which establishes that ‘there must be no discrimination on the basis of sex, origin, language, or creed’ (art. 18), that ‘freedom of conscience is absolute’ and that ‘the state guarantees the inviolability of worship’ (art. 22).”
Around 7 p.m., Francis moved to his residence, inside the area of the Royal Palace. With these first meetings Francis’ 39th apostolic journey began to take shape, the first of a pope in the Kingdom of Bahrain.
A theory of ‘mutual knowledge of civilizations’
On Friday, November 4, at 9:45 a.m., the pope visited Awali. This city is located more or less in the center of the country, about 30 kilometers south of Manama, the capital. It was founded in 1934 by the Bahrain Petroleum Company to house its headquarters, its staff and the company’s foreign executives and employees. The municipality is more inspired by European-style garden cities than by traditional desert towns or local oases.
In Awali Francis concluded the dialogue forum “East-West for Human Coexistence” at the Al-Fida’ Square of the Sakhir Royal Palace. The pope was welcomed by the King and the Grand Imam of al-Azhar and, together with them, went to the garden for the Tree of Peace ceremony. As they made their way to the stage, parade planes and helicopters flew overhead. The Forum, held on November 3 and 4, was also attended by religious leaders and prominent personalities from different countries of the world. It was organized by the Muslim Council of Elders, the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs and the King Hamad Global Center for Peaceful Coexistence.
The King greeted the guests present. This was followed by the speech of Grand Imam Ahmed Al-Tayyeb. He began by talking about the “bitter fruits that 21st century man is reaping: wars, blood, destruction and poverty, not to mention mourning, orphans, widows, emigration, exodus, fear of an unknown future, terror, worry and immense darkness.” He referred to the “victims of wars caused by the market economy, and the monopoly of wealth, greed and consumerism, the trade and export of heavy and lethal weapons to third world countries, along with the export of sectarian and ethnic conflicts and the encouragement of sedition and conflict, and the destabilization of these safe countries.”
These policies, he said, are underpinned by philosophical theories that have become the criteria ` by which international relations have been governed: in particular, the theory of the conflict of civilizations and the apocalyptic theory of the end of history. Al-Tayyeb then hoped that the day would soon come when relations between East and West would “return to their rightful path, thus establishing a relationship of complementarity and mutual cooperation.” The West, in fact, needs the “wisdom” and “spirituality of the East and the depth of its vision of the reality of things,” as well as the “markets of the East,” its “raw materials.” The East, for its part, needs “to consult the sciences of the West and use them in its technical and material revival; to import its industrial, defense and medical products, as well as other items from the markets of the West.”
This relationship between East and West is “far from the ways of cultural hegemony and the clashing of civilizations.” The Grand Imam, in this regard, quoted the contemporary French thinker Tzvetan Todorov, who in his book The Fear of the Barbarians states that Western culture should not be represented as the only civilized society and as the standard for judging other cultures. It is necessary, therefore, to react to the theory of the “clash of civilizations” with a theory of “mutual knowledge of civilizations,” which is making its way also in the sphere of Islamic thought, on the basis of some Quranic principles.
Al-Tayyeb appealed to “Muslim jurists all over the world, irrespective of their sects and schools, to hold a serious dialogue [within Islam], a dialogue in favor of unity, rapprochement, a dialogue for religious and human brotherhood, in which we reject the causes of division, sedition and sectarian conflict and focus on points of agreement and encounter. We should forgive and apologize to each other for the things on which we disagree, and for the consequences of this; we should stop hate speech, provocations and infidelities, bearing in mind the need to overcome historical and contemporary conflicts with all their problems and sentiments.”
He concluded, “I extend this invitation to everyone, and in particular to our fellow Shia Muslims. I am ready, together with the jurists of highest authority in Al-Azhar and the Council of Muslim Elders, to hold such a meeting with open hearts and outstretched hands. Let us sit together at the same table to overcome differences and strengthen the Islamic cause and the unity of realistic positions, which fulfill the purposes of Islam and its law, and prohibit Muslims from listening to the calls of division and discord; and to guard against falling into the traps that cause instability in nations, the use of religion to achieve an ethnic or sectarian end, and from interfering in internal affairs to weaken the sovereignty of states or to usurp their lands.”
Against ‘isolated thinking’
The pope gave the closing address. He offered an image which is like a meditation on the world: “Let us think of the waters of the sea,” he said, “which bring lands and nations into contact and connect distant peoples. In the words of an ancient proverb, ‘What the land divides, the sea unites.’ The Earth, seen from above, appears as a vast blue sea that unites different shores.” The sea is like a bridge that connects all shores. And we “are indeed one family, not islands, but one great archipelago. This is how the Most High wants us to be, and this country, which is an archipelago of over thirty islands, can well symbolize that desire.” Continuing with the image, Francis spoke of “two seas with very different waters: the calm, freshwater sea of a serene life together, and the salty sea of indifference, marred by clashes and swept by the winds of war, its destructive billows growing ever more tumultuous, threatening to overwhelm us all.”
If we allow the logic of oppositions to prevail, “East and West increasingly resemble two opposing seas.” Instead we should “set sail on the same waters, choosing the route of encounter rather than that of confrontation, the path of dialogue indicated by the title of this Forum: ‘East and West for Human Coexistence’.” We need to overcome what the pope called “isolating thinking.”
In the light of the contrasts that animate international politics at the present time, the judgment becomes telling: “a few potentates are caught up in a resolute struggle for partisan interests, reviving obsolete rhetoric, redesigning spheres of influence and opposing blocs. We appear to be witnessing a dramatic and childish 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.” Instead, we must learn “to view crises, problems and wars through the eyes of children: this is not a mark of naiveté, but of farsighted wisdom, because only if we are concerned for them will progress be reflected in innocence rather than profit, and lead to the building of a better and more humane future.”
Francis foresaw “bitter consequences” if we persist in the imposition of “despotic, imperialist, nationalist and populist visions,” “if we continue simplistically to divide people into good and bad; if we make no effort to understand one another and to cooperate for the good of all.” We will go ahead only “by rowing together; if we sail alone, we go adrift.”
Three challenges, according to the pontiff, emerge from the Document on Human Fraternity and the Declaration of the Kingdom of Bahrain, which was discussed during the Forum: prayer, that is, “the opening of our hearts to the Most High, is essential for purifying ourselves of selfishness, closed-mindedness, self-reference, falseness and injustice;” education, because “where opportunities for education are lacking, extremism increases and forms of fundamentalism take root”; action, because it is necessary to stop “supporting terrorist movements fueled by financing, the provision of weapons and strategy, and by attempts to justify these movements, using the media.”
Speaking about the educational challenge and citing the Document on Human Fraternity, Francis reiterated once again the importance of “education for citizenship, for living in community, in respect for one another and for the law. Then too, he stressed the importance of the ‘concept of citizenship,’ which ‘is based on the equality of rights and duties.’ Here, commitment is demanded, so that we can ‘establish in our societies the concept of full citizenship and reject the discriminatory use of the term ‘minorities’, which engenders feelings of isolation and inferiority. Its misuse paves the way for hostility and discord; it undoes any successes and takes away the religious and civil rights of some citizens who are thus discriminated against’.” Citizenship is the name of peace.
After the meeting, the pope returned to his residence, where, in the early afternoon, he met the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar.
A fire in the harmonious garden of the world
At 4:30 p.m. Francis went, together with the Grand Imam, to the Mosque of the Sakhir Royal Palace. Here they read a passage from the Koran and a passage from the Book of Genesis. Then, after some introductory speeches, the Grand Imam and the pope delivered their speeches.
Francis invoked peace on the members of the Council, who intend to “foster reconciliation in order to avoid divisions and conflicts in Muslim communities.” In this way, the pontiff wants to place himself at the service of reconciliation, even within the Islamic world. He asserted that we increasingly need to put “openness to heaven ahead of differences on earth. We need to put a future of fraternity ahead of a past of antagonism, overcoming historical prejudices and misunderstandings in the name of the One who is the source of peace.” And this when “a flood of evil and death” has sprung from “the human heart, from the malign spark unleashed by the evil that crouches at the door of our hearts, to destroy the harmonious garden of the world.”
“How can we do this?” the pope asked. The answer is “prayer and fraternity. These are our weapons, modest but effective.” Not by other means, not by “shortcuts unworthy of the Most High,” whose name is Peace. This name “is dishonored by those who put their trust in power and nurture violence, war and the arms trade, the ‘commerce of death’ that, through ever-increasing outlays, is turning our common home into one great arsenal.” This is a very clear message to those who believe that weapons and resort to force can be the solution to conflicts.
Significantly, Francis recalled Imam Ali’s saying, “People are of two types: they are either brothers and sisters in religion or fellow men and women in humanity.” A saying that had resonated on the trip to Iraq.
At 5:30 p.m. the pope went to the Cathedral of Our Lady of Arabia for an ecumenical meeting and prayer for peace. Since 2021 it has been the seat of the vicar apostolic of North Arabia, consecrated by Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle in December last year. He also went to the small church of Our Lady of the Visitation.
The cathedral was built in the municipality of Awali, on a 9,000-square-meter plot of land donated by King Ahmad bin Isa Al-Khalifa on February 11, 2013, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, to the Catholic community to build a church there. It was inaugurated on December 10, 2021. It is the largest Catholic church in the Arabian Peninsula and can accommodate 2,300 people. It has an octagonal shape, with the Blessed Sacrament chapel, the chapel of Our Lady of Arabia and a confessional space at its corners. Inside there is a polychrome statue of Our Lady of Arabia. The structure of the building is reminiscent of a tent, the tent in which Moses met his people. The interior of the church is decorated with 16 icons – with the icon of Christ Pantocrator in the center – depicting the main mysteries of the faith.
After reading a passage from the Acts of the Apostles (2:1-12), the pope gave his address. His words resounded with two useful elements for the common journey: “unity in diversity” and “witness of life.”
The Pentecost account specifies that each person heard the apostles speak “in their own language.” The Holy Spirit does not coin an identical, uniform language for everyone, “but allows each to speak in other languages, so that everyone can hear his or her own language spoken by others.” In short, the work of the Spirit is not to imprison us in uniformity, but, on the contrary, “disposes us to accept one another in our differences.” This is the “spirit of the ecumenical journey.” The other element is the witness of life. For many Christians being in Bahrain means rediscovering a Christian presence in the daily humility of the workplace, which often implies “understanding and patience, joy and meekness, kindness and a spirit of dialogue.” But above all, for such a small and varied Church it means considering the “beauty of being the little ones of the Father.”
Then a prayer for peace was spoken by various representatives of the Churches and Christian Communities. At the end, Francis returned to his residence.
‘In the dough of the world…’
On Saturday, November 5, at 7:40 a.m., the pope went to the Bahrain National Stadium in Riffa, home of the royal family. The facility can accommodate about 30,000 people. After a tour among the faithful, Francis celebrated the Mass for Peace and Justice in English.
The pontiff had before him part of the Catholic community of the country. The numbers of the faithful vary. One generally speaks of about 100,000 faithful, compared to a population of about 1.5 million. As in the other Muslim nations of the Arabian Peninsula, the presence of diverse communities in Bahrain is relatively recent, and is linked to that of diplomatic personnel, businesses and foreign workers, who have arrived in the country since 1930. Originally, they were mostly immigrants from Middle Eastern countries, but after the oil boom, thousands of Christians arrived from various Asian nations. Even today, the vast majority of Christians in the country are foreign nationals who reside there for work purposes. They mostly come from Iraq, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Palestine and Jordan, but also from Sri Lanka, India, the Philippines and Western countries.
It should also be noted that Bahrain is one of the few Gulf countries to have a local Christian population: there are about 1,000 faithful, mostly Catholics of Arab origin, who arrived in Bahrain between 1930 and 1950 and were granted Bahraini citizenship. Christian communities and communities of other faiths enjoy freedom of worship. Like Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, the ruling house of Al-Khalifa has for some time promoted a policy of religious tolerance and openness to interreligious dialogue. The work of the local Church concentrates on pastoral activities, some charitable initiatives carried out by parish groups and associations and a school.
In his homily the pope spoke of the coming Messiah. Of him the prophet Isaiah says: “His power shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace” (Isa 9:6). Francis bitterly commented, “This sounds like a contradiction in terms: on the world scene, we often notice that the more power is sought, the more peace is threatened.” The Messiah, therefore, “will indeed be powerful, not in the manner of a commander who wages war and rules over others, but as the ‘Prince of Peace’.”
Jesus, however, is not irenic, but realistic: we are not called to “dream idealistically of a world of fraternity, but to choose, starting with ourselves, to practice universal fraternity, concretely and courageously, “demilitarizing the heart.” This “means choosing not to have enemies, choosing not to see in others an obstacle to overcome, but a brother or sister to love.” But “this ability cannot be merely the result of our own efforts; it is primarily a grace of God.”
This was followed by the prayer of the faithful, which was recited in Konkani, Malayalam, Tagalog, English, Swahili and Tamil. Thereafter the pope returned to his residence.
In the afternoon, at 4:45 p.m., Francis went to the Sacred Heart School, a Catholic secondary school founded next to the Sacred Heart Church in Manama in the 1940s. Here he met with about 800 young people. After the reception and testimonies, he gave a speech. Among other things, he said: “Within the dough of the world, you are the good leaven destined to rise, to break down many social and cultural barriers and to foster the growth of fraternity and innovation. You are young people who, as restless travelers open to the unexpected, are not afraid to exchange ideas with one another, to dialogue, to ‘make some noise’ and mingle among yourselves; and so you become the basis of a society marked by friendship and solidarity.”
He issued three invitations to young people. The first is to embrace the culture of care, according to the expression used in a testimony he heard. The second is to sow fraternity: just as the desire to “travel and learn about new lands” is alive in young people, so they must know how to “to expand inner borders.” He recalled an expression of the Asian Jesuit theologian Aloysius Pieris. Bahrain is indeed at the gateway to the great and multiform Asian Continent, which Pieris called “a continent of many tongues.” “Learn how to blend those tongues,” Francis concluded, “in the one language of love, as true champions of fraternity!” The third invitation concerns the challenge of making decisions in life: “get involved, take risks, decide.” For this we need to “train the ability to choose, creativity, courage, tenacity” in intimate dialogue with God, who “illumines the maze of thoughts, emotions and feelings in which we often find ourselves.” Certainly the advice of “wise and reliable people” is of help in orienting ourselves.
At the end of the meeting, around 6 p.m., Francis returned to his residence.
A Church composed of different stories and faces
On Sunday, November 6, at 9 a.m., the pope went to the Church of the Sacred Heart in Manama, covering a distance of about 30 km. It was the first Catholic church in the entire Gulf area. It was Sheikh Haman Bin Isa Al-Khalifa, in the 1930s, who offered a plot of land to Catholics to build it.
Manama, whose name means “place of rest” or “place of dreams” in Arabic, as well as being the capital, is the largest city of Bahrain. It is located on a peninsula in the far north of the island of Bahrain – the largest of the 33 islands that make up the small Middle Eastern state – off the western coast of the Gulf. It is located in an area that has been inhabited for about 4,000 years. The city was first mentioned in Islamic chronicles in 1345. Since 1971 it has been the capital of the independent state of Bahrain.
At the Church of the Sacred Heart the pontiff met priests, consecrated men and women, seminarians and pastoral workers from Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. In Bahrain there are 20 priests (of whom 7 are religious), 7 nuns and 89 catechists. After the testimonies of a pastoral worker and a nun, the pope gave a speech and then recited the Angelus.
What Francis had before him was a “migrant Church in the desert,” which at times, considering the Gulf countries, lives in “very difficult conditions because of restrictions on religious freedom, work permits and residence permits,” as Msgr. Hinder said in his greeting.
The testimonies heard were moving. Among them was one from Chris Noronha. “Many migrants,” he said, “have left their families back home to work here so that they can support their loved ones on their meager wages. They toil for hours on end and their only consolation at the end of the day is that they have made a difference to their families’ future financial security. To be so far away from loved ones, sometimes for years, is a real test of faith, and this is where the Church makes a difference. We all gather here to pray, asking God to give us the strength to overcome these trials. Many long for someone to listen to them with empathy as they express their innermost feelings of insecurity and fear. I know we find our peace in Jesus.”
The pope knows that the Church in Bahrain is “a small flock made up of migrants,” and he repeated what he had said with clarity especially on his trip to the United Arab Emirates and also to Mauritius, where the Christian community is made up of people who come from many lands: “It is beautiful to be part of a Church composed of different histories and different faces that find their harmony in the one face of Jesus.”
Inspired by the words of the Gospel, which speaks of the living water that flows from Christ and believers (cf. John 7:37-39), he referred to the land of Bahrain as follows: “While it is true that there is a large expanse of desert, there are also springs of fresh water flowing underground that irrigate it. That is a beautiful image of who you are and, above all, of how faith operates in our lives: on the surface our humanity seems parched by any number of weaknesses, fears, challenges and personal or social problems of various types. Yet, truly within the depths of the soul, in the intimacy of the heart, there flows the calm and silent fresh water of the Spirit, who refreshes our deserts and restores life to what is parched, who washes away all that soils us and quenches our thirst for happiness. The Spirit always restores life.”
He then dwelt on “three great gifts that the Holy Spirit gives us and asks us to receive and to reflect in our lives: joy, unity and prophecy.” Joy, which comes from “a relationship with God, from knowing that despite the struggles and dark nights that we sometimes endure, we are not alone, lost or defeated, because he is with us.” We are to build unity to be credible in dialogue with others: “let us live in fraternity among ourselves. Let us do so in our communities, valuing the charisms of each person without humiliating anyone.” Then there is Prophecy and its spirit, the inner light that makes prophets “attentive interpreters of reality, capable of perceiving God’s presence amid the frequently obscure course of history and making it known to the people.” “We too have this prophetic vocation,” the pope said, and “the words of the prophets are often scathing: they call out by name the evil designs lurking in the hearts of people; they call into question false human and religious certainties, and they invite everyone to conversion.” This is the face of the Church in Bahrain: composed of differences, united and prophetic by its very nature.
At the end of the meeting, the pope went in private to the ancient Church of the Sacred Heart. Around 12 noon he went to Sakhir Air Base in Awali, where the farewell ceremony took place in the presence of the King of Bahrain, the Crown Prince and Prime Minister, three other sons of the King and a grandson. At 1 p.m. the papal flight took off for Rome’s Fiumicino Airport, where it landed at about 4:30 p.m. (local time).
* * *
Pope Francis’ apostolic journey to Bahrain took place against the backdrop of great international tensions. There was no shortage of references to Ukraine, Yemen, Lebanon and Ethiopia. The Messiah, “Prince of Peace,” is a figure the pope evoked to declare that power – to avoid becoming a dangerous childish game – must seek peace. Addressing an Islamic people, composed of Shiites and Sunnis who experience tensions, he wanted – together with Imam Al-Tayyeb – to launch a message of unity and dialogue. And for Christians and Muslims together, as for all, the invitation was to be citizens working together for the common good. The Church – small in a small country – is called, because of its nature as a composite and migrant community, to be a prophetic sign of unity and peace for the whole world.
DOI: La Civiltà Cattolica, En. Ed. Vol. 6, no.12 art. 2, 1222: 10.32009/22072446.1222.2
. The paper was published in Civ. Catt. English Ed. (https://www.laciviltacattolica.com/human-fraternity-for-world-peace-and-life-together/). Cf. also D. Fares, “Pope Francis and Fraternity”, ibid., September 2019, and F. Körner, “Human Fraternity. Commentary on the Abu Dhabi Document”, ibid., June 2019. The journal has also published a special issue dedicated to the theme of fraternity: https://www.laciviltacattolica.it/prodotto/fratellanza/
. Civiltà Cattolica has published accounts of these trips.
. Let us remember that the interpretation of Islamic revelation supported by Al-Sistani preaches the abstention of religious authorities from direct political activity. Francis’ trip to Iraq turned the spotlight on Najaf, a Shiite “holy city” that had been somewhat overshadowed, and opened up a whole new perspective, one that is epochal in its support of intra-Islamic dialogue. Cf. A. Spadaro, “Fraternity is stronger than fratricide: Pope Francis in Iraq”, in Civ. Catt. March 2021.
. The Muslim Council of Elders is an independent international organization, based in Abu Dhabi, founded on July 18, 2014, to promote peace in Islamic communities. The Council brings together Muslim scholars, experts and dignitaries esteemed for the principles of justice, independence and moderation.
. Recall that Al-Tayyeb is a major figure in Sunni Islamic jurisprudence, whose influence is recognized worldwide. After earning a doctorate in Islamic philosophy from the Sorbonne University in Paris, he taught in various countries. In March 2010 he was elected rector of al-Azhar. The Grand Imam visited Pope Francis in May 2016 and for a private visit at Santa Marta in October 2018. He welcomed the Pope during his apostolic trip to Egypt on April 28-29, 2017, on the occasion of the International Conference for Peace, organized by Al-Azhar, and met Pope Francis in Abu Dhabi, signing with him, on February 4, 2019, the Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Common Coexistence, aimed at promoting dialogue between Christians and Muslims. The Grand Imam and the pope then met last September, in Kazakhstan, on the occasion of the VII Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions; finally they also met also on October 4, 2021, on the occasion of the “Faith and Science” Meeting.
. Cf. T. Todorov, La paura dei barbari. Oltre lo scontro della civiltà, Milan, Garzanti, 2016.
. The first principle: “God Almighty has created His servants different in race, color , language, religion and other characteristics, and they will remain different in these characteristics until the last moment of life in this universe.” The second principle: “God Almighty has created people different from each other; it is inevitable that He creates them free regardless of what they believe, otherwise the difference that is God’s Sunnah in His creation would not have been realized.” The third principle: “If the noble Qur’an establishes the previous two facts, i.e. the diversity of people and the guarantee of their freedom to choose what they believe,” then the legitimate relationship between people in the Qur’an is only that of “mutual knowledge and peace.”
. Signed on July 3, 2017, by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa-Manam, it can be read at http://bahrainsociety.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/BAHRAIN_DECLARATION.pdf
. The church is dedicated to Our Lady of Arabia, devotion to whom dates back to December 1948, when a small chapel with this title was created in Kuwait. It housed a statue that had been blessed in the Vatican by Pius XII. In 1957 the same pope proclaimed Our Lady of Arabia patroness of the territory and apostolic vicariate of Kuwait, and in 2011 the Holy See named her patroness of the countries of the two apostolic vicariates of the Gulf.
. Since the passing of Msgr. Camillo Ballin in 2020, the see has been vacant, and is currently entrusted to the apostolic administrator of the vicariate of North Arabia, Msgr. Paul Hinder, who until April 2022 had been vicar apostolic of South Arabia. The two vicariates are members of the Latin Bishops’ Conference for the Arab Region (CELRA), which brings together Latin-rite bishops present in Israel, Jordan, Palestine, the countries of the Arabian Peninsula, Syria, Lebanon, Cyprus, Djibouti and Somalia. The See was established March 31, 1967. On the basis of its Statutes, approved on August 23, 1989, the presidency belongs by right to the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, currently Monsignor Pier Battista Pizzaballa, apostolic administrator of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem of the Latins.