VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis is set to make a four-day visit to Bahrain, a journey that will make him the first pope to visit the Arab kingdom just off the coast of Saudi Arabia in the Persian Gulf.
The visit Nov. 3-6 has two main goals: to speak at the Bahrain Forum for Dialogue: East and West for Human Coexistence and to encourage the predominantly expatriate Catholic and Christian communities who live and work in the Muslim-majority region.
Underlining the theme of the visit, “Peace on Earth to people of goodwill,” the pope is expected to be a “messenger of peace,” appealing to all people and nations to come together, free from prejudice and open to seeing each other as brothers and sisters.
It will be the 13th Muslim-majority nation he has visited in his almost 10 years as pope.
Pope Francis is going to Bahrain to further promote interfaith cooperation because “there is a common interest among the monotheistic religions,” Bishop Paul Hinder, administrator of the Apostolic Vicariate of Northern Arabia, told reporters by video call from Abu Dhabi Oct. 24.
The intention of the pope, he said, is “to make us understand that it is absolutely necessary” to find a place where there can be strong mutual respect and cooperation.
The pope will have a chance to underline the role governments, diplomats and members of civil society need to play when he meets with them Nov. 3 at Sakhir Palace. The pope also will meet with King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, who invited the pope and is sponsoring the Forum for Dialogue event.
Bahrain, a prosperous archipelago nation of about 30 islands, is the smallest country in the Middle East, with about 1.5 million people, about half of whom are foreign workers. About 74% of the residents are Muslim and 9% are Christian.
Bishop Hinder said there are no official statistics for the number of Christians, but the Church estimates there are about 80,000 Catholics in Bahrain, about 1,000 of whom are citizens of the kingdom.
Bishop Hinder said Catholics are overjoyed that the pope is coming to encourage them in the faith.
They are “a small flock with little or practically no power,” he said. The papal visit makes them “feel recognized. ‘We exist!’” and it will boost their morale.